Major Henderson grew up in Oregon where he attended Oregon State University and was a ROTC cadet. He went to Vance AFB for my pilot training, and started flying the F-16 in March 1985 as a "Viper Baby" - going to the jet right out of pilot training. His first assignment was at Nellis AFB flying F-16A's in the 428 TFS. He stayed there until 1988, leaving just before the wing closed down. From there he went to MacDill AFB to become a F-16 RTU instructor pilot. He transitioned to the F-16C (block 30 big mouth) in 1989 and went back to Nellis in 1990 to attend the Fighter Weapon School. Following graduation, he returned to MacDill for another two years.
Major Jim 'Magic' Henderson
In 1992 he was headed back to Nellis again for a job at the 422 Test and Evaluation Squadron. In 1994, he moved down the street at Nellis to become an Instructor at the Weapons School. In 1995 he briefly moved to Tucson AZ to instruct at the Guard/ Reserve Weapons School. However, that school was closed 6 months later so he went back to Nellis until the end of 1995. During the first part of 1996, he was attending the Dutch language school in Monterey CA, in preparation for his exchange assignment to Holland. He arrived in Holland July of last year and is currently assigned to the 323 TACTESS in Leeuwarden, where he is an instructor pilot for the FWIT and part of the MLU test team.
F-16.net: First of all, how many hours do you have in the F-16?
Maj. Henderson: I currently have about 2600 hours in the Viper.
F-16.net: Which assignment was your favourite?
Maj. Henderson: I think that a lot of pilots will say that their first fighter squadron was their favorite and I'm no different. We really had an outstanding squadron at the time. I was a brand new fighter pilot, 23 years old, single, living in Las Vegas and flying F-16s during the Reagan years of the Cold War. At one time I believe that we had about 14 single guys in the squadron. Needless to say, we had a blast. My closest friends are still guys that I met during those years.
F-16.net: What exactly is the mission of the 422nd and the 428th?
Maj. Henderson: The 428th was just a normal operational squadron (like you find at Aviano or Spang). Unfortunately, the wing closed down in the late 80's. However, the 422 TES ( Test and Evaluation Squadron) is still at Nellis. It is the squadron designated to do the operational testing and evaluations of aircraft, systems and weapons. We had F-15s, F-16s, A-10s, F-15E's, F-4s, F-111s and F-117s all asigned to the squadron when I was there. Anytime a new weapon or system was developed for use in the F-16, our job was to figure out how best to use and employ it before it went out to the operational squadrons.
F-16.net: Do you have particulary fond memories of a specific deployment or exercise?
Maj. Henderson: The most memorable and enjoyable period during my time in the Viper was a two week TDY to Edwards AFB in November of 1993. While assigned to the 422 Test Squadron, I was the Program Manager for the Tactical Evaluation of the MATV aircraft. That was the F-16 that had the thrust vectoring nozzle installed. Me and a buddy (Jayboy Pearsall) got in on the ground floor of the development of the jet. The sole reason for it's development was to see what sort of tactical advantages this new technology would give it in close in combat. We were able to decide how and what we wanted to do with the jet to answer that question. Up to that point in time, most of the research on thrust vectoring had been done in simulators. We would get to be the first to try out all of the theories, in a real operational jet. After a good portion of the year was spent on planning we headed out to Edwards to get checked out in the MATV jet. Both Jayboy and myself were checked out in it. We also brought along a couple Vipers and pilots from Nellis to act as the bandits. For that 2 week period I either flew the MATV jet or as a bandit, twice a day. We got to do real tactical fighting against some of the best Viper drivers around in a totally new kind of jet. I've done a lot of fun things in the Viper, but nothing has co me close to topping those two weeks.
F-16.net: What was your impression of the MATV?
Maj. Henderson: The MATV jet was a really outstanding aircraft. It's been funny to see the fuss made over some of the maneuvers that the thrust vectoring Flanker has made at airshows over the last few years. We accomplished them all several years ago in our jet. But, since we didn't do airshows (our goal was a tactical evaluation of the technology) hardly anyone knew about it. The funny thing is that most of those maneuvers are of very limited use in a tactical fight. As far as the MATV jet, it was quite a difficult jet to fight. Once you got the feel for when and how to use the thrust vectoring, it was almost unbeatable in any one vs one fight. When involved in one vs two fights, it was almost an even fight. I actually felt that I had the advantage when I passed two bandits in a high aspect merge. It is a shame that all of the F-16s could not be modified with the kits.
F-16.net: Have you flown any other aircraft besides the F-16, and if so, how do they compare to the Viper?
Maj. Henderson: No. However, I have been luck enough to fly every block of F-16 starting with the block 10 small tail. It has been amazing to see all the changes that have come to Viper over the years.
F-16.net: So which model of the F-16 do you prefer?
Maj. Henderson: The jet that I enjoyed flying the most was the MATV jet. But, since that wasn't an operational jet I guess that really doesn't count. Of all the operational jets, I still enjoy BFM in a Block 10 small tail the most. The Block 30 big mouth is also a great jet. When I was at MacDill AFB we did the initial engine testing on the GE-129. We had a few of our Block 30s modified with those engines to do the initial evaluations. That was a really outstanding jet. The same engine as a block 50, but in a lot lighter jet.
F-16.net: What exactly does jour job as a MLU Operational Test and Evaluation pilot encompass?
Maj. Henderson: We have a multi-national test team here at Leeuwarden to test the MLU jet. We have pilots and support personnel from Holland, Norway, Belgium, Denmark and the US assembled here for a year to test and evaluate it. Since there are quite a few new systems and features, we first need to ensure that they all work properly. Since many of these systems are uniqe to the jet and new to the EPAF, we also develop the new tactics for their use. We then fly all the old missions of the block 15's (as well as a few new ones) to evaluate the performance and capabilities of the new jets.
F-16.net: What's your personal opinion on the MLU?
Maj. Henderson: The MLU jet is really a nice little jet. It is a great improvement over the Block 15's. With an improved radar, IFF interrogator, GPS and air to air data link it is a very capable aircraft. It has the same cockpit and avionics as the Block 50's, but none of the HARM capabilities. It is really going to be a nice jet to have in Europe.
F-16.net: As an American Exchange Pilot in Europe - how would you compare flying the F-16 in a European airforce to flying it in USAF service?
Maj. Henderson: Since this is my first assignment to Europe, I have had quite a few new things to get used to. The weather, flying environment and terrain is certainly different from that of Las Vegas. It's also been really fun to see the way other air forces run things. There are quite a few things that we can do over here that aren't allowed in my air force. Since almost all of the Dutch pilots are trained in the US, the way they fly is very similar to that of American pilots. Being one of the most experienced squadrons in the Dutch AF, the 323rd reminds me a lot of the 422nd and Weapons School back at Nellis.
F-16.net: What exactly do you 'teach' as an FWIC instructor?
Maj. Henderson: Like most of the other FWIC instructors, I fly with the studends during all phases of training. Most of us also had some portion of the academics to teach. Since the Maverick and AIM-120 missiles are relatively new to the EPAF, those were the two areas that I instructed. Instructing at the FWIC has been a great experience. It has allowed me to meet many of the other pilots from different bases around Europe.
F-16.net: What's the story behind your callsign(s)?
Maj. Henderson: I picked up my callsign when I was stationed at Nellis on my first tour in about 1986. There probably aren't many people around anymore that remember where it really came from. However since the story isn't "politically correct", I generally only tell it after quite a few drinks. Needless to say, it has nothing to do with flying jets.
F-16.net: What's the best or worst practical joke you played on someone (or fell vicitm to)?
Maj. Henderson: During a Red Flag years ago, I was flying as a paired element mate with a buddy of mine (Fooz). Since we were both flight leads, we took turns leading the flights. On one of the first days out, one of us was shot by an aggressor. That night, we decided that whoever was killed next would have to buy a LARGE bottle of whiskey for the other. This would surely improve our visual lookout on the rest of the missions. Well, for the next week and a half neither one of us got killed. It finally came to the last day of the Flag and I was leading. Just as we passed Student Gap (still 40 - 50 miles from the nearest bandit), I called for an in place 90 degree turn to the left. Since Fooz was on my left side, that put me one mile at his dead 6. I think he figured out what was going on just as I called "Fox II kill, that will be a bottle of whisky Fooz". I'm not generally in the habit of shooting my own wingmen, but it seemed like the thing to do at the time.
F-16.net: Thanks for the interview!
- Maj. Jim Henderson was interviewed online by Stefaan Vanhastel -