January 8, 2004 (by Lieven Dewitte) - The F-16s used by the New Jersey Air National Guard's 177th Fighter Wing are about 20 years old and have an average of 4,500 hours in the air.
This means that they are approaching the end of their typical life expectancy, which is about 6,000 flight hours. The aging jets are so often in need of repair that about only half of the fleet is available for missions at any one time.
That may be about to change however.
Two federal lawmakers visited the wing's base at Atlantic City International Airport on Wednesday to announce they got funding earmarked for more modern jets into the National Defense Authorization Act signed into law by President Bush.
It seems that they want to make sure in Washington that the wing gets the resources to accomplish their mission.
The 177th bears primary responsibility for patrolling the area between New York and Washington. Flying hours have increased threefold since 9/11, accelerating wear and tear on the aircraft.
The authorization bill requires the Department of Defense to find nine jets to complement the current 16-jet fleet.
When the planes will arrive has not been determined yet and they won't be new F-16s, either. The planes going to the 177th will come from other bases which will be in their turn line up for upgraded aircraft.