During April 1980 the 61st Fighter Squadron along with the remaining sister squadrons that year began the conversion from the F-4D to the F-16A/B. During this conversion the squadron was redesignated the 61st Tactical Fighter Training Squadron which better reflected its training role even though that did not change even from the Phantom days.
In June of 1988 the squadron began a transition to the F-16C/D bock 30 big inlet F-16. Also during these early days the parent wing, the 56th FW, performed some testing of the GE-129 engine on six aircraft. At least one, #87-0339, belonged to the 'Top Dogs.' It flew with the GE-129 for six months and was found to be a real treat to fly according to instructor pilots. On November 1st, 1991 the squadron was redesignated the 61st Fighter Squadron.
The squadron was officially deactivated at MacDill AFB, Florida on August 12th, 1993 but some sources say deactivated in January of 1994. Very shortly after deactivating during 1994 the squadron stood up again at Luke AFB and MacDill AFB was closed. The closure of MacDill AFB was shortlived as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) transferred to MacDill. In 1994 support services for CENTCOM and SOCOM moved into MacDill AFB. Eventually an air refueling squadron was placed at MacDill followed by another in 2001.
USAF F-16A block 5 #78-0068
of the 61st TFTS has its engine covered when parked at a location that is not home base at McDill AFB. [Photo by Mike Kopack]
When the squadron moved to Luke AFB, Arizona the squadron continued in its duties in a training role as Luke AFB became the primary F-16 training unit. Essentially the 314th FS was replaced by the 61st FS on April 1st, 1994 in order to preserve the history of the 'Top Dogs' over the 314th.
Training for the 61st FS is a standard syllabus to get students their first look at the F-16 and prepare them to serve with active duty units. 'Top Dogs' mission statement is to 'Train world-class F-16 pilots. This requires professional competence, teamwork, and pride from the entire 61st FS team. The 61st FS's focus is on our mission and taking care of our people.'
In February of 2008 the base commander Brig. Gen. Tom Jones announced that the 63rd FS will be deactivated. The General based his decision on the squadron's historical heritage. This ultimate decision had to be made as a result of the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure Committees decision that Luke AFB give up twenty-five block 25s. As a result the 61st FS will give up its block 25s and receive the block 42s from the 63rd FS. The first block 25 F-16s left Luke AFB in November 2008 with oldest and highest airframe hour aircraft leaving first. Some 61st FS block 25s did go to the other Luke AFB block 25 squadrons.
Due to the BRAC 2005 decision, the squadron was eventually disbanded on August 27th, 2010 in spite of hopes of converting to the block 42. A four ship fly-by marked the occasion and beach-themed party followed to mark the occasion. The four flown by another Luke squadron, but by former 62nd FS pilots, as the last two F-16s #84-1280 and #85-1506 departed the 62nd for AMARG for storage on August 24th, 2011. In late 2013 the unit was activated again at Luke AFB to be the first Luke AFB squadron to fly the F-35A.
USAF F-16C block 25 #83-1146
from the 61st FS is buzzing out of Luke AFB on August 18th, 2006. [Photo by Jason Hyatt]