Hill delivers final Block 52s to Thunderbirds one year ahead of schedule
by Lee Ann Hensley
Hilltop Times Staff
11/19/2008 - HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah -- The Ogden Air Logistics Center at Hill Air Force Base delivered the final two modified Block 52 F-16 Fighting Falcons to the Air Force Thunderbirds on Nov. 17 during a ceremony here.
The two modified F-16s complete the set of 10 upgraded Block 52 F-16 jets that will be used in the Thunderbirds 2009 demonstration season in lieu of the Block 32 aircraft that have been previously used by the famous United States Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron.
Delivering history one year ahead of schedule
In order to continue the demonstration squadron's tradition of displaying the latest advances in aircraft technology, the Air Force Chief of Staff directed in April 2006 that the Thunderbirds convert all F-16s to the Block 52 for the 2010 show season. Two months later, the Hill AFB 508th Aircraft Sustainment Group was chosen to lead the two-phase program with assistance from the 309th Aircraft Maintenance Group, which involved upgrading 10 Block 32 F-16 Fighting Falcons to a Block-52 Thunderbird aircraft and accepting the retired Block 32 Thunderbird jets to convert them into combat-capable Block 52 F-16 aggressors for combat training purposes.
The original schedule had been accelerated to deliver the Block 52 aircraft a year earlier to allow the Thunderbird team to train and perform in the new aircraft for the 2009 show season. The last of the 11 Thunderbird aircraft were inducted in March 2008 and months later were ready for delivery.
"As the final Thunderbird Block 52 rolls off the floor today, it's a product of the tremendous efforts and support from the Ogden Air Logistics Center and the Team Hill community," said the ceremony's honored guest, Brig. Gen. Stephen Hoog, commander of the U.S. Air Force Warfare Center at Nellis AFB, Nev.
"The F-16 and Hill Air Force Base have a shared history. The first operational F-16A was delivered to Hill in 1979, and in 1996 the F-16s flew their 5 millionth hour over Hill Air Force Base," said Lt. Col. Michael Hastriter, Hill AFB 501st Aircraft Sustainment Squadron commander. "We are here today making history once again as we deliver the final Block 52 F-16 Thunderbird aircraft. This Thunderbird conversion program represents the finest of Hill Air Force Base and the finest of our Air Force."
'Going from a Corvette to a Ferrari'
The conversion from the Block 32 to Block 52 F-16 aircraft involves adding advanced avionics and a more powerful Pratt and Whitney 229 motor. These improvements allow the aircraft to expand the performance and operating envelope for the pilots, and will provide improved reliability and maintainability for the Thunderbird maintenance team. A total of 11 Block 32 aircraft also had their gun systems replaced by a smoke-generating system that provides visual amplification to the Thunderbird's shows and had other structural modifications performed to complete the conversion to a Block 52 airframe.
"Each of these aircraft has about 4,500 production hours and the total program has a little over 60,000 maintenance man hours," said Gregory Hoffman, director of the Hill AFB 571st Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. "We close this program today with the hand-off of this final jet. Our folks went through these airplanes to make sure that they were going to be capable to support the team, so that the Thunderbird maintainers don't have to worry about the product they get from this organization."
For the Thunderbird pilots, the conversion program not only offers more reliability for the maintainers, but the upgraded PW 229 engine will provide more power and thrust, improving their show for the viewers.
"We will be able to give a more dynamic performance," said Thunderbird pilot No. 2, Maj. Chris Austin.
"Basically, we will be able to accelerate quicker and climb steeper," added Thunderbird pilot No. 5, Maj. Tyrone Dyon Douglas. "Both jets have their pluses and minuses, but the Block 52 is a better jet overall. It's like going from a Corvette to a Ferrari."
Putting the 'fight' back in 'Fighting Falcon'
The second phase of the conversion program will involve taking the 10 retired Thunderbird Block 32 aircraft that were delivered from Nellis AFB on Nov. 17 and converting them from their aerial demonstration configuration back to a combat-capable fighter aircraft. The aircraft will receive the Block 52 avionics modifications and structural replacements, and then their paint scheme will be changed from friendly red, white and blue to enemy aggressor color schemes.
"All ten aircraft will then be returned to Nellis Air Force Base to be used in adversarial training missions such as Red Flag," Hoffman said.