August 27, 2010 (by A1C Melanie Holochwost) - After 69 years in existence, the 61st Fighter Squadron will stand down in a ceremony at 4 p.m. in Hangar 413.
USAF F-16C block 25 #84-1280 & F-16D block 25 #85-1506, the last two F-16s from the 61st FS, leave Luke AFB for their final flight on August 24th, 2010. Both jets were flown to be decommissioned as part of the Combat Air Force restructuring plan to retire legacy fighters.
The stand down is bittersweet, said Lt. Col. Philippe Malebranche, 61st FS
"The 61st is a fantastic squadron and I'm sad to see it close," he said. "We are trying to look beyond the closing and hoping that in a few years we will reactivate and continue the same Top Dog traditions as one of the newest F-35 squadrons."
Following the ceremony, the Top Dogs will lower their flag at 5:36:10 p.m. while four former squadron members perform a four-ship flyby.
A beach-themed party will follow at 6 p.m. with food, drinks and live music. Fifty tons of sand, palm trees and more will be brought in to complete the theme. Tickets can be purchased in advance for $10 or at the door for $15.
Colonel Malebranche said the Air Force chooses to stand up or stand down squadrons based on the number of heritage points they have earned.
"Unfortunately, there isn't anything I can do to increase heritage points, because we are a training squadron," he said. "We haven't earned any points since World War II when Col. Gabby Gabreski and Lt. Col. Robert Johnson made a name for us in the P-47."
Out of the 39 aces in Luke history, Colonel Gabreski and Colonel Johnson are the top two with 28 and 27 victories respectively.
Colonel Malebranche said the WWII success led to the motto, "I'm a Top Dog, bring it on!" and the viper hand signal. Before a flight, pilots wipe the blood from their mouth and show a number one.