The history of the F-16 within the 422nd TES stretches for more the three decades which makes it one of the longest consecutive operator of any aircraft type in USAF history. When the first aircraft came off the production line in 1979 the 422nd received a couple of early block 1, 5 and 10 airframes to conduct different kinds of tests on the airframes. The squadron is very unique in this way that it flies different aircraft types simultaneously. In general the squadron conducts Operational Test and Evaluation (OT&E) flights of tactical fighter systems and develops and tests tactics, techniques and concepts. The unit conducts operational tests for Air Combat Command on new hardware and upgrades to each of five aircraft (F-16C, F-15C, F-15E, A-10C and F-22A) in a simulated combat environment. The 422nd TES also develops and publishes new tactics for these aircraft.
In the early years the squadron was equipped with block 1, 5 and 10 airframes, but during the 1980’s these were replaced by newer blocks starting with the block 25 and ending with the current mixed fleet of block 42/52 airframes.
During the years the squadron has also performed specific testing for the F-16. These included weapons integrations tests for the AIM-120 AMRAAM, AIM-9X Sidewinder, AGM-88 HARM, AGM-154 JSOW, AGM-65 Maverick, CBU-87 WCMD and many others. Also advanced testing for external pods like LANTIRN or SNIPER and Litening III were conducted by the 422nd TES.
USAF F-16C block 42 #88-0423
from the 422nd TES seen departing Nellis AFB on July 30th, 2008. [Photo by Jason Hyatt]
Two other programs were also conducted. In the early nineties the MATV program was started. Although the squadron didn’t operate the MATV F-16, it did fly support missions for this program. But specialized programs did start even earlier. A few years before the MATV program F-16s of the 422nd TES were involved in the A-16 project. This project aimed as introducing the F-16 as a replacement for the A-10 in the CAS role. Up to 7 F-16s were painted in the European One camouflage colors and equipped with a Pave Penny laser pod. Tests were conducted but eventually the whole plan came to a halt. Today the A-10 is still used as a primary CAS aircraft, but the F-16 can also perform this task. The USAF doesn’t use them for this that often (due to the availability of the A-10) but foreign air forces without the A-10 do often use the F-16 in a dedicated CAS role. With the introduction of more advanced targeting pods like SNIPER and Litening III this was made possible.
Worth mentioning is that the squadrons unique in another way. It is based out of Nellis AFB, but officially it resides under the 53rd Wing that is operated out of Eglin AFB. To show this unique configuration the squadron flies with aircraft both carrying the ‘OT’ tailcode as the ‘WA’ tailcode. When showing the WA tailcode the aircraft are adorned with a black and yellow checkered tailband – just as the other Nellis AFB based units – and when they’re adorned with the OT tailcode they show a black and green checkered tailband.
USAF F-16C block 25 #83-1131
from the 422nd TES is parked on the tarmac at Hill AFB. It is sporting the 'European One' camo scheme. [Photo by Doug Slowiak]