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Historic article: F-16 reaches five million flt hrs

December 3, 2009 (by Aaron Clark) - History isn't always the "old stuff" which occurred hundreds of years ago. History is made every second of every day. Something that happened just a few years back could be historically significant in many ways.

Capt. Kurt Gallegos flies F-16C block 40 #88-0474 wearing special markings for the 5,000,000th flight hour of the F-16 from Hill AFB on December 4th, 1996. [USAF photo]

That was the case at Hill Air Force Base in the winter of 1996.

This week 13 years ago, Hill AFB hosted a historic milestone celebration for the F-16 Fighting Falcon. Hill AFB and the 388th Fighter Wing were chosen to be the base and wing to reach the F-16's five million flight-hour mark, and rightfully so.

From a historical perspective, it would only make sense to let Hill mark this important achievement in F-16 history because it was the first base to operationally fly the aircraft through the 388th Fighter Wing.

Also, the 419th Fighter Wing stationed at Hill, was the first Air Force Reserve unit to receive the F-16. Lastly, Hill was the primary training base for foreign and domestic pilots and maintenance personnel in the beginning years of the F-16 program. All these factors were considered when deciding who was to host this event, and it was clear to the top Air Force officials that Hill should do the honors.

On a cold and snowy Dec. 4, 1996, military members, local civilians, and VIPs gathered for this historic flight. Among some of the guests were Col. (Ret.) Dean Stickell, the first to fly 1,000 hours in the F-16, Master Sgt. (Ret.) Richard Devault, the first operational crew chief for the F-16, and Mr. W. B. Zimmerman, who headed the F-16's introduction into the USAF inventory.

Capt. Kurt Gallegos, a member of the 12th Air Force's F-16 Demonstration Team and 34th Fighter Squadron, was given the honors to log in the five millionth flight hour. With the theme to "Mission Impossible" roaring over the loud speakers, he gave the audience an extraordinary show demonstrating the breathtaking aeronautical capabilities of the F-16. After 15 minutes of flight, Gallegos landed the F-16 to an ecstatic crowd drowning out all background sounds with cheers and applause.

It is interesting to note that Gallegos, now a lieutenant colonel in the 419th Fighter Wing, was a local to the area. Having been born and raised in Layton, Gallegos went to Layton High School and Utah State University. In a recent interview with Gallegos, he said in his youth he would watch Hill's F-4 Phantoms and F-105 Thunderchiefs fly overhead and thought, "I want to fly that airplane someday."

Little did he know he would eventually be part of an aeronautical milestone as an F-16 pilot.

Gallegos said he felt "very lucky" to be a part of this event and "to be able do it right here in Layton, Utah, in my own backyard, it was really special."

The achievement of this aircraft was monumental and several local newspapers put into perspective the amount of flight time the F-16 had reached when they stated,

"If you had taken off in one airplane the same day Christopher Columbus landed in the Americas, you would still have to travel 65 more years to reach the million hours," he said.

Even though there were many F-16's logging in the hours, not just one, this aircraft has and continues to go above and beyond expectations.

Over the past 30 years, the F-16 Fighting Falcon has become the backbone of the United States military fighter force, and has clearly earned a top spot as a key contributor in our nation's military might. The 388th and 419th Fighter Wings continue to honorably and skillfully implement the F-16 today in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.

Hill also continues to be the F-16's primary depot, which supports all F-16s worldwide. Hill AFB has always played a significant role with this proven aircraft and leadership is excited to know Hill may play the same role with the upcoming F-35 Lighting II.

Who knows, Hill may be holding another five million flight-hour mark celebration not too far in the future for the F-35.

Courtesy of Aaron Clark, 388th Fighter Wing Historian

Additional images:

Overview of the Hill F-16 West Coast Demo Team in 1996 [USAF photo]