December 29, 2008 (by 2Lt. Bryan Bouchard) - In January 1979, the first operational F-16 Fighting Falcon was delivered to Hill Air Force Base, Utah. Nearly 30 years later to the day, a pilot from Luke AFB has amassed 4,000 hours flying this workhorse of the air.
Col. David Lujan
Col. David Lujan shares a laugh with Brig. Gen. Kurt Neubauer, 56th Fighter Wing commander at Luke AFB.
, 56th Operations Group deputy commander, became the 17th pilot, according to Lockheed's magazine, "Code One," ever to reach that milestone when he flew this memorable sortie Dec. 22.
"It's pretty good company to be with," said the command pilot who's been flying the F-16 since 1988.
Colonel Lujan attributes his many hours logged to having always been in flying assignments, he said. After spending the equivalent of more than 166 straight days flying in the F-16, he has no problems singing the jet's praises.
"She has always brought me home," he said. "Take-offs equal the landings which is always a good thing. The 'Viper' jet is a wonderful machine, which can be very unforgiving when you don't respect its limitations; bottom line is that it's a sweetheart of a jet when you treat it right."
The colonel said he has seen the aircraft evolve from a very simple fighter to a very complex, highly-capable war machine.
"This jet is the backbone of our fighter force in the Air Force for the near future," he said. "It will perform its duties extremely well until it gets replaced by the Joint Strike Fighter."
Of all the hours he's spent flying the F-16, the hours he remembers best are from deployments, supporting ground forces engaged in combat.
"I remember my first combat sortie in [Operation] Desert Storm. That was interesting, to say the least," Colonel Lujan said. "I also remember cleaning the racks off in an Operation Iraqi Freedom combat sortie with a motivated joint terminal attack controller this past August.
"I can guarantee you that all the exciting sorties I have ever been in have one thread in common," he said. "They were all air-to-ground in support of the Army in combat operations. That ought to tell you about the real mission of the F-16, right?"
Despite amassing 4,000 hours and the years of experience in the Air Force, Colonel Lujan doesn't look back and keeps his eyes on the horizon.
"It is not about how much time you have logged that is important, it is about how well you employ that aircraft in the future," he said. "The future is today and tomorrow, not yesterday. An extensive logbook is not the key to fighter aviation success, the key to success in fighter aviation is how well you do your job right now and in the future."
Of the 25 pilots that have reached the 4,000 hour mark, five others are from the Luke AFB
family. Col. Lance Undhjem
, 944th FW (2003); Col. William B. Binger
, 944th FW (2005); Lt.Col. Bilal Yalin
, 56th FW (2005); Lt. Col. Gerald Paulus
, 944th FW (2007); and Lt. Col. John Wynne
, 944th FW (2008).