New Thunderbird F-16 on display at Hill Aerospace Museum

Monday , June 11, 2018 - 5:15 AM

HILL AIR FORCE BASE — For nearly 40 years, the F-16 was synonymous with Hill Air Force Base.

And while the next-generation F-35 has taken the legacy fighter’s place there, the Hill Aerospace Museum now has a real-life tribute to the iconic jet.

Robb Alexander, executive director of the Aerospace Heritage Foundation of Utah, said the museum recently acquired a new F-16A Fighting Falcon — to be displayed at the east end of the facility’s fighter gallery, alongside two other F-16s.

The new jet was flown by the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds aerial demonstration team from 1983-1992. Alexander said the plane came from Sheppard Air Force Base in Texas.

“We found out that it was basically just going to be scrapped,” Alexander said. “So we took it and we had a donor pay to have it fixed up.”

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A total restoration of the jet took several months to complete, but the jet — with the familiar Thunderbird red, white and blue paint scheme — is now set up at the museum. It will be formally unveiled during a private ceremony during the Warriors Over the Wasatch Air and Space Show, which is scheduled for June 23-24 at HAFB.

RELATED: Hill AFB pilot reaches combat flying milestone in Afghanistan

Alexander said the Thunderbird and its partner F-16s in the museum are gestures to the integral role the plane had in sustaining the base for four decades.

HAFB’s 388th Fighter Wing received its first F-16 in January 1979, becoming the first operational F-16 Fighter Wing in the Air Force. Just a little more than two years later, in 1981, the fighter wing flew the jet overseas for the first time on a mission to Norway.

The 419th Fighter Wing (the 388th’s reserve counterpart) received its first jet in 1983 to become the Air Force’s first F-16 reserve wing.

HAFB F-16s flew in Operation Desert Storm, as well as more recent conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, and performed several other missions during their helm. In 2001, the 419th was the first F-16 unit to conduct air strikes in Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks. In 2003, the wing was the first to fly combat missions into Iraq.

RELATED: Hill AFB F-16s deploy for the final time

When HAFB’s first two combat-ready F-35s arrived on base in September 2015, it signaled the beginning of the end for the F-16 in Utah. The planes deployed for the final time two months after the F-35s arrived, when HAFB’s 421st Expeditionary Fighter Squadron flew to Afghanistan to support post 9/11 follow-up combat duties.

By 2019, HAFB will have a fleet of 78 F-35 Lightning IIs, flown by both fighter wings.

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In September 2017, HAFB’s final six F-16s left for Holloman AFB in New Mexico. They are now used for pilot training.

A keen eye might still recognize an F-16 or two flying over Northern Utah skies for the next few years, as HAFB’s maintenance depot services and repairs the jets as needed.

You can reach reporter Mitch Shaw at mishaw@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter at @mitchshaw23 or like him on Facebook at Facebook.com/MitchShaw.StandardExaminer.

 

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