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Training with the F-16 Fighting Falcon; Luke AFB, March 3, 2017

The 56th Fighter Wing, part 1; Text and Photograph's by Alex van Noye

For years, Luke Air Force Base near Phoenix in Arizona was the main training base for the F-16 Fighting Falcon pilots within the United States Air Force. Besides the introduction of the F-35A Lightning II at this airbase, there are still a number of important training units stationed which train pilots on the F-16C/D.

The first unit which is stationed at Luke AFB is the 21st Fighter Squadron (21st FS). This unit was formed during the Second World War in October 1944. The 21st FS was equipped with the Republic P-47N Thunderbolt which was used for the escort of the B-29 Superfortress during the bombing of Japan. During the Cold War, the squadron was stationed at various airports in the United States. After being deactivated for a while, the 21st FS was reactivated at Luke AFB in Arizona in August 1996. The unit was designated as the "The Gamblers" and has a number of playing cards in its badge. The squadron was reactivated for the training of the new generation of F-16 pilots from the Republic of China Air Force (ROCAF). Taiwan, which is now part of China, is using the F-16 Fighting Falcon since 1996. From January 1997, the first F-16A/B block 20s were delivered to the unit and the training of the pilots could begin. The training program for the Taiwanese pilots was set up under the name "Peace Fenghuang"; this name is the Chinese word for Phoenix. In total, the unit would receive more than 20 aircraft for the training task. The training program for the Taiwanese pilots takes a total of three years. The training consists of both theory lessons in the classroom and also flying training missions. In the beginning the students will fly basic maneuvers and later the tactical aspects will also be discussed. After the training the pilots will go to the operational units in Taiwan.

The 309th Fighter Squadron (309th FS) is known under the name "Wild Ducks". The batch of the unit can be recognized by Donald Duck who is ready to take action with a lightning bolt in his hand. The unit is recognizable by the blue-white tail band on the F-16s. The main mission of the unit is to provide training on the F-16 Fighting Falcon for the upcoming USAF pilots. The unit was founded at Baer Field in Indiana in 1942. In Europe, the unit was mainly used to escort bombers during the Second World War. At that time the 309th FS was equipped with the British Supermarine Spitfire. During

the Vietnam War, the unit was deployed for air battles against the North Vietnamese fighter planes with the F-100 Super Saber and later with the F-4D Phantom II. At the beginning of the 90s, the unit was stationed at Shaw AFB. From April 1, 1994, the 309th FS moved to its current location Luke AFB in Arizona. The unit was at that time equipped with the F-16C/D Fighting Falcon block 25. The 309th FS delivered over the years more than fourteen Aces with over 161 kills through the deployments during various conflicts. The unit has received several presidential awards through this exceptional performance. As of March 1, 2014, the unit has started moving its F-16s to the 311th FS at Holloman AFB in New Mexico. The 309th FS at Luke AFB will soon be temporarily inactive, because the unit will start the conversion to the F-35A Lightning II. This conversion is likely to start at the end of 2017.

The 310th Fighter Squadron (310th FS) was founded in 1942 at Harding Field in Louisiana. The unit flew the Bell P-39 Airacobra and the Curtiss P-40 Warhawk during the Second World War. After the war, the unit was relocated to South Korea at Taegu Air Base as the 310th Fighter-Bomber Squadron. The unit was equipped with the Republic F-84G Thunderjet and later on from 1954 with the North American F-86 Saber. During the Korean War, the unit mostly flew air-to-ground missions. Eventually the unit was stationed at Osan Air Base in South Korea from March 1959. On December 1, 1969, the unit designation was changed to the 310th Tactical Fighter Training Squadron and moved to the current Luke AFB in Arizona. Today, the unit is still stationed here under its current name as the 310th FS. The squadron is responsible for the advanced pilot training on the F-16 Fighting Falcon. Since 1987, the unit is known as the “Top Hats”. This top hat is also depicted in the emblem of the 310th FS. The F-16s of the squadron can be recognized by the green and yellow tail band on the F-16. At this moment the 310th FS is using the F-16C/D Fighting Falcon block 42. The specialized training within this unit mainly focuses on the ground attack role of the F-16. The main elements are operating with night vision equipment and Forward Air Control (FAC) operations where the F-16 drops laser-guided weapons at the target from high altitude.

The last F-16 squadron which is stationed at Luke AFB is the 425th Fighter Squadron (425th FS). The squadron was established during the Second World War as the 425th Night Fighter Squadron at Orlando AAB in Florida. After the war, the squadron had been stationed for many years at Williams AFB at Mesa in Arizona. On December 30, 1992, the 425th FS was reactivated on Luke AFB under the squadron name "Black Widows". The unit's new mission was to provide the advanced weapon and tactical training for the F-16 pilots and maintenance personnel of the Singapore Air Force. Despite the American background, the squadron was manned by personnel from the USAF and the RSAF (Republic of Singapore Air Force). Initially block 15 F-16s were borrowed from the USAF in 1992. This batch consisted of seven F-16As and two F-16Bs. To complete the squadron, another seven F-16A/B’s were also brought by Singapore from the USA. In 1995, the F-16s that were leased from the Americans were taken out of service. The Seven Singapore F-16s went back to their own country. The USAF was unable to deliver the F-16s again and finally four F-16Cs and eight F-16Ds block 52 were made available by Lockheed Martin for the training of the pilots. In the end, these F-16s were purchased by the RSAF. The ground personnel and the pilots from Singapore who are being trained in the United States remain within the 425th FS for more than two years. The pilots follow a tactical training and participate in Red Flag during their training. The pilots also shoot with sharp ammunition during the Combat Archer exercise.

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