December 1, 2006 (by SrA Stephen Collier) - The block 30 F-16 Fighting Falcons assigned to the 80th Fighter Squadron at Kunsan AFB are set to enter upgrade in the Air Force's Falcon Structural Augmentation Roadmap program aimed at extending the service life of the aircraft.
USAF F-16C block 30 #86-0286 from the 8th Fighter Wing at Kunsan Air Base, South Korea, flying near the base on April 28th, 2006.
The improvement to the fleet follows previous air-to-ground dominance to air-to-air interdiction upgrades to adapt to an ever-changing mission, officials at Kunsan said.
Over the years, each F-16 aged more than four times as fast when compared to the original design conceived by General Dynamics and the Air Force in the 1970s. The F-16 remains the fighter of choice for U.S. Forces Korea, said Capt. Christopher Lombardo, the 8th Maintenance Operations Squadron operations officer.
He added that as the F-16 continues to adapt to an evolving mission, attaining the aircraft's mandated service life of 8,000 hours "is critically important to the aircraft sustainment community."
"Quite simply, Falcon STAR replaces the structural components that are aging prematurely," Captain Lombardo said. "After the modification, the aircraft will have the newest and most reliable materials needed to take the aircraft through its designed operational life."
Each aircraft has a new maximum operational weight of approximately 39,000 pounds, due to its use of an array of weaponry from Global Positioning System guided bombs to radar-guided, air-to-air missiles. The previous designed weight for the F-16 was 22,500 pounds.
Because of the extra stress put on these airframes, 8th Fighter Wing leaders, in an alliance with Korea Aerospace Industries, are working together to update and harden several areas of the aircraft, including the frame, support beams and bulkheads.
"This modification benefits the Air Force, because we're extending the life span of the F-16," Captain Lombardo said. "Not only does this modification increase the reliability of the aircraft structure, but it indirectly reduces the sustainment costs by replacing aging items with durable materials."
Modifications on two aircraft are already under way and expected to be complete by February. Each F-16 at Kunsan should have its Falcon STAR upgrades completed by early 2008. Falcon STAR is also supported by Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard units supporting F-16 operations.