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F-16 Fighting Falcon News

With 300,000 hours, Kunsan's 8th Fighter Wing sets F-16 record

February 17, 2002 (by Jim Lea) - U.S. Eighth Fighter Wing pilots from Kunsan AB (South Korea) have set an Air Force record, amassing 300,000 hours in the F-16 since the aircraft deployed here in 1981.
First Lt. Miki Krejcarek, wing spokeswoman, said 14 pilots from the unit's 35th and 80th Fighter Squadrons set the record earlier this month. The 8th, on South Korea's West Coast, has more flight hours in the F-16 than any Air Force overseas wings equipped with the aircraft, said Tech. Sgt. Niklaas Waller, a wing historian.

Other overseas F-16 wings in the Pacific are at Osan Air Base, just south of Seoul; Misawa Air Base, in northern Japan; and Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. There are two wings in Europe, one in Germany and one in Italy.

Waller said wing pilots flew more than 227,522 sorties - a take-off and landing by one aircraft equals one sortie - to chalk up the record. That means 8th Fighter Wing pilots have flown an average 29 sorties every day for 21 years.

"The number of sorties you can fly is determined by the number of aircraft you have," said Col. Thomas Ardern, wing vice commander. "Smaller squadrons fly an average 19 or 20 sorties daily, larger ones fly 18 to 24. We keep pretty busy."

At Kunsan, those sorties are flown around the clock in any kind of weather.

"The F-16 originally was built as a daytime, clear-air aircraft," Ardern said, adding that the Lockheed Martin-built plane has evolved significantly. "Ours now are equipped with the LANTIRN system, meaning we have an around-the-clock capability. Our pilots train with night-vision goggles and we can drop laser-guided weapons in any weather."

That?s extremely important in South Korea, with North Korean air bases, missiles and artillery only moments away.

During the 1950-53 Korean War, U.S. pilots flying World War II-vintage P-51 Mustangs and then-new F-86 jets established air superiority almost immediately after the North Korean invasion.

Ardern, an F-16 pilot for 15 years, said he?s confident air superiority will remain should there be another war here.

"North Korea has a variety of aircraft ranging from World War II models to MiG-29s," he said. The MiG-29s are "their most advanced aircraft and those are the ones we train for. We also train for their ground defense capabilities. We always train for the worst-case scenario.

"Although we hope we?ll never have to test our ability in Korea again, I feel very confident we can do it. We?ll have a lot of help. The South Korean air force also has F-16s. Their pilots are very talented and train very hard, as well."

With the constant training schedule the pilots contend with, a layman might think burnout could be a problem.

"I?ve never known a pilot to burn out," Ardern said.

"They get tired sometimes from the rigorous schedule, but they love what they do. They?ve worked hard to get where they are and they enjoy it."

Waller said the Kunsan wing - known as the "Wolf Pack" - was the first unit in Pacific Air Forces to receive the F-16. The 35th received theirs in September 1981 and the 80th got theirs a month later.

Krejcarek quoted Capt. Erik Drake of the 80th Fighter Squadron, one of the 14 pilots who helped set the record, as saying it?s not just a number, it's a "continuing tradition."

Krejcarek listed the other pilots who helped set the record as Capts. Cory Amundson, Bill Bryant and Gene Cassingham and 1st Lt. Sean Neitzke of the 35th. Also, Capts. Paul Miller, Shannon Prasek, Norm Johnsen, Alexus Grynewich and Charles Coderko and 1st Lts. Jeffrey Buckland, Steven Strandburg, Justin Spears and Matthew Allen of the 80th.

Published on February 17, 2002 in the Pacific edition of Stars and Stripes.
Used with permission from Stars and Stripes, a DoD publication.
© 2005 Stars and Stripes.