F-16s started to arrive for the 63rd Fighter Squadron in 1980 and was active with the F-16 by 1981. On October 1st, 1981 the squadron was re-designated the 63rd Tactical Fighter Training Squadron even though it had always trained crew when it flew the Phantom II. Starting in 1988 the 63rd Tactical Fighter Training Squadron converted to the F-16C/D block 30. Another designation change occurred on November 1st, 1991 this time become known as the 63rd Fighter Squadron. Shortly after, in the early 1990s, it was decided to close MacDill AFB. First the 72nd FS disbanded, followed by the deactivation of operations by the 63rd FS at MacDill on March 12th, 1993. The two remaining squadrons deactivated shortly after and MacDill AFB shut down.
USAF F-16A block 5 #78-0063
from the 63rd TFTS is parked on the concrete at McDill AFB. Note that the unit is highlighted in the serial number. [Photo by Mike Kopack]
Like it's two sister squadrons, the 61st and 62nd FS, the 63rd Fighter Squadron moved to Luke AFB, but instead of getting block 25s the squadron took over block 42 Vipers. The 63rd was activated at Luke AFB on February 25th, 1993 under the 58th Fighter Wing. Less than a year later the 58th Fighter Wing was re-numbered the 56th Fighter Wing effective April 1, 1994. The 56th Fighter Wing was formerly based at MacDill AFB, Florida and was still under the command of the AETC. The move was part of the start to make Luke AFB the main F-16 Replacement Training Unit. Training crew of the 63rd go through a standard syllabus and the 'Panther' mission is 'To train the world's best F-16 fighter pilot warriors.'
On January 14th, 2008 the 63rd Fighter Squadron started a course that caught a few aviation headlines. They began training pilots selected to fly the F-22 Raptor, pilots who have never flown a fighter before. Up to this point F-22 pilots were hand picked from the existing fighter community. In the first of what will be many classes started with four pilots. The course, called the Raptor Lead-in coarse, is a five-week introduction to fast aircraft. Training pilots can get themselves comfortable in the F-16 before moving on to the $169 million single seat F-22. Planning for this course started back in early 2007. The four pilots have some flight time already with the T-38 Talon. Some of the key things these trainee pilots will learn are; night flying, day and night landing, air-to-air refueling and to increase their ability to perform anti-G straining techniques. Once the course is completed the student pilots will move on to the 43rd Fighter Squadron out of Tyndall AFB, Florida where they will spend the next two years training with the F-22.
In February of 2008 the base commander Brig. Gen. Tom Jones announced that the 63rd FS will be deactivated. The General based his decision on the squadrons historical heritage. This ultimate decision had to be made as a result of the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure Committees decision that Luke AFB give up twenty-five block 25s. Although the 63rd FS does not fly the block 25 it will give up its F-16s to the 309th FS which does operate the block 25. The first of these block 25 F-16s are set to leave Luke AFB in November 2008 with the squadron being closed out by the spring of 2009.
On April 4th, 2009 the 63rd graduated its last class of F-16 pilots at which time it continued the process to deactivate. Officially the squadron stood down on May 22nd, 2009 after 68 years of service.
USAF F-16C block 42 #90-0759
from the 63rd FS is flying over Luke AFB after taking off from the base. [Photo by Jason Hyatt]