Fighter Jet News

F-16 Fighting Falcon News

389th FS says goodbye to the F-16

March 21, 2007 (by MSgt. Brian S. Orban) - Nearly 16 years of flying F-16 fighters officially ended on March 16 when the 389th Fighter Squadron officially transferred to a new airframe and a new mission during a ceremony in Hangar 201.

An F-16CJ stops in front of Hangar 201 during the 389th FS "final flight" ceremony on March 16, 2007

Lt. Col. Phillip Hoover, the squadron's outgoing commander, flew the squadron's final training mission with the F-16CJ Fighting Falcon earlier that afternoon.

The squadron's last five F-16s leave here March 29 as part of the wing's realignment from a multi-role fighter base consisting of F-16, F-15C and F-15E jets to an all F-15E Strike Eagle installation by 2011. The squadron's first F-16s left here in November 2006 with individual or small groups of jets leaving the base on regular intervals.

Parking the jet in front of the hangar during the commemoration ceremony, the colonel stepped out to address the hundreds of pilots, maintenance troops and well wishers who gathered to witness this "changing of the guard."

"Saying you were an F-16 T-Bolt will be a lot like the saying 'You can never go home again,' " the colonel said. "Our change to the Strike Eagle isn't necessarily better or worse; just different. Change is constant. Today's change is just a little more dramatic than most of us are used to."

During the ceremony, Colonel Hoover illustrated the squadron's ability to adapt to changes in the early days of the Air Force's fledgling Air Expeditionary Force concept. The squadron, commonly called the Thunderbolts or T-Bolts for short, broke away from the outdated Cold War "fight in place" mentality to a "deploy at a moment's notice" mindset and set the stage for today's expeditionary Air Force.

The challenge for the 389th now "is to keep the same attitude and vision that transformed the idea of [deploying] F-16s anywhere in the world on short notice ... into a model for the entire Air Force," Colonel Hoover added. "It's our duty to apply the lessons we've learned in the past and apply this same energy to crush the challenges facing us now."

"The departure of these F-16s is just another hash mark over the lifetime of the Gunfighters," added Lt. Col. David Belz, 366th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron commander. "As has happened seven other times in the last 64 years of T-Bolt history, one aircraft leaves while another graces the flightline."

During its time at Mountain Home, the squadron set a flying safety record. In a span of more than 15 years, the squadron's F-16s flew 57,787 sorties without a major accident. Colonel Belz applauded the base's maintenance people for reaching that milestone.

"In their line of work, it's hard [for them] to maintain starch and polish, and some days they'll leave work wearing uniforms that are blacker than their boots," Colonel Belz said. "But these maintainers ... are aviation professionals who do not tolerate carelessness, complacency, and neglect. I can think of 57,787 reasons why this claim is true. These T-Bolt maintainers love their F-16s, they love aircraft maintenance and they are some of the finest sons and daughters our country has to offer."

"As an F-16 maintenance guy, this is the end of a legacy, and it's sad to see them go," said Staff Sgt. Jared Ralphs, a dedicated crew chief with the 389th Aircraft Maintenance Unit. "Regardless of the weather and time of day, we were out there busting our [backsides] to get those jets ready to fly. It's this diehard determination to succeed that makes aircraft maintainers who they are."

Most of the base's last nine F-16 pilots are slated to leave the base by May. Meanwhile, about 40 of the squadron's 107 F-16 aircraft maintenance troops will remain here and retrain into F-15 jet maintenance.

Meanwhile, the 389th FS continues to receive F-15E Strike Eagles from Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska, as part of the Air Force's realignment plans. The first of the air-to-ground attack jets arrived here in December 2006 with the last of the squadron's 21 fighters due to arrive here in May 2007.

"Despite the change in airframe, the nuts and bolts of how these maintainers operate won't change," Colonel Belz said. "They'll keep providing Gunfighter aircrews with safe, reliable aircraft that can be counted on to do our nation's bidding when diplomacy fails."

"T-Bolt excellence has the one constant over the ... years," Colonel Hoover added as he outlined all the inspections the squadron tackled, the deployments its people served on and the revolutionary weapons and aircraft upgrades that made the T-Bolts even more lethal. "The heart and soul of those accomplishments has been the men and women who wore the T-Bolt red. Without your vision, energy, sweat, blood, commitment and whatever else you want to call plain hard work, the T-Bolts would not have thrived on change."

The Base Realignment and Closure Commission chose Mountain Home to become a core F-15E installation because of its premier training range, which is suited for a multitude of air-to-ground, low-level and air-to-air flight training.

Courtesy 366th Fighter Wing Public Affairs Office