May 2, 2010 (by 2nd Lt. Jodi L. Kiminski) - Fighter pilot Lt. Col. Reed Bowman was all smiles when the first F-16 block 50 landed at the Duluth Air National Guard (ANG) Base April 27, 2010.
Distinguished guests of the 148th FW pose in front of one of the wing's new F-16C block 50s (#91-0388) at a wing celebration ceremony at the Duluth ANGB on April 30th, 2010. Past and present members of the unit, friends and family, along with state and local officials gathered at the wing to celebrate the arrival of the new block 50 F-16C aircraft.
"You don't believe it till they're sitting on the ramp in front of you and you're ready to start work on them and we're there today," said Bowman, 148th Fighter Wing (FW) Conversion Officer. "This has been in motion for many, many months and the work to get us into this position took years."
The planes, the first of 20 the Air Force is transferring from the 22nd & 23rd Fighter Squadrons at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, will replace the 148th's current block 25
F-16s. Past and present members of the unit, friends and family, along with state and local officials celebrated the arrival of the new aircraft during a ceremony at the Duluth ANG
Base on Friday, April 30, 2010.
"Our leadership, national, state and local, as well as the support we get from the community is the reason we're here. If nothing happened and those forces didn't rise up we would be shutting the doors," said Col. Frank Stokes, 148 FW Commander.
The 148 FW is the first Air National Guard Wing to convert to the block 50
from the active duty Air Force, and one of only two guard units in the country to fly them.
In 2005, the 148 FW faced the loss of its fleet, and potentially hundreds of jobs, when the Pentagon recommended the unit's Block 25 F-16s be retired as part of the Air Force Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC
). Instead, after years of hard work and support from state and national politicians, along with local community groups and leaders, the unit was awarded a new mission along with new aircraft providing the Wing ready capabilities well into the future.
"No base is more deserving of these planes than this base, Duluth and the 148th. Time and time again they've won awards because they're one of the best bases in the nation. They may be small but they're mighty and we wanted to make sure they got these planes," said U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN).
The Block 50 aircraft boasts an improved engine with more thrust as well as enhancements to the aircraft structure. It also includes a greater computer capacity for future upgrades and improvements.
"Our previous airplane was like you bought a computer and just couldn't upgrade it anymore," said Bowman. "These new jets have almost limitless upgrade capability to the point where they'll be the second most capable we have in our inventory behind the F-22 until the F-35 comes online."
Pilots and aircraft maintenance personnel are currently attending technical training for the new aircraft. All 20 of the new aircraft should be on base by the end of May. The conversion from the Block 25 to the new Block 50 aircraft will take approximately 18 to 24 months.
"Today, we are at the top of all U.S. Air Force F-16 fighter wings," said Stokes. "It's a good day to be a Bulldog."