In 1989 the 138th FS began transitioning from the A-10A to the F-16A/B block 10, although the first airframes started arriving in late 1988. These aircraft were passed down from regular USAF units who were upgrading to the C/D model of the Viper. During 1989 IOC was reached and the unit – being equipped with the block 10 type – was chosen as a test unit for a close air support version of the F-16 (dubbed F/A-16). These airframes were equipped with the General Electric GPU-5/A Pave Claw pod on the centerline station. The pod housed a 30mm GAU-13/A four-barrel derivative of the seven-barrel GAU-8/A cannon used by the A-10A, and 353 rounds of ammunition. The aircraft were the only F-16s ever to be equipped with this weapon, intended for use against a variety of battlefield targets, including armor.
In this configuration the squadron was deployed to the Persian Gulf for Operation Desert Storm. The project however proved to be a miserable failure. Precision aiming was impossible for several reasons: the pylon mount wasn't as steady as the A-10's rigid mounting; the F-16 flies much faster than an A-10, giving the pilots too little time approaching the target; firing the gun shook the aircraft harshly and made it impossible to control; essential CCIP (continuously computed impact point) software was unavailable. The pilots ended up using the gun as an area effect weapon, spraying multiple targets with ammunition, producing an effect rather like a cluster bomb. It took only a couple of days of this before they gave up, unbolted the gun pods, and went back to dropping real cluster bombs - which did the job more effectively. The unit received the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award, with the ‘V’ device for valor, during Operation Desert Storm; the Air Force Association Outstanding Unit Award and the National Guard Association's Best Family Support Center Award.
USAF F-16A block 10 #79-0352
from the 138th TFS flies over a section of upper New York State on July 1st, 1991. The aircraft belongs to the New York ANG and is specially equipped for close air support. [USAF photo by TSgt Michael Haggerty]
In 1993 the squadron started trading in their old block 10 models for newer block 30 models. In that process the squadron had the ‘honor’ of sending the first F-16 airframe to AMARC aka ‘The Boneyard.’ This happened on July 20th, 1993 when an F-16A (#79-0340) was flown into the desert for flyable storage. Although these airframes were only 13 years old, they were put into storage due to more modern models becoming available and these blocks weren’t needed any longer by the USAF. The general mission for the squadron remained unchanged with this transition. Only six years later – in 1999 – the 138th FS changed block types once more, with the introduction of older block 25’s. This meant changing again from the General Electric engine to the Pratt & Whitney. As if this wasn’t enough, the squadron return back to the block 30 airframes in 2004, shifting from engine type once more.
In 2008 it became apparent that the 138th FS was going to loose its airframes and that Hancock ANGB would lose its manned aviation after more than 60 years of operations. The squadron was set to fly the MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). On March 6th, 2010 the last two F-16s (#85-1561 and #85-1570) departed Hancock Field marking the end of F-16 operations at the base. They made three low passes for the assembled crowd gathered to commemorate the end of manned aviation at the Syracuse ANG base in upstate New York.
USAF F-16C block 30 #85-1482
from the 138th FS is coming in for landing on runway 03L at Nellis AFB
on March 31st, 2009. [Photo by EOR]