Pilots of the 388th Tactical Fighter Wing will begin training next month to fly a new version of the F-16 that will feature improved navigational and targeting equipment plus an advanced air-to-air missile.
Hill pilots are scheduled to travel to Luke Air Force Base near Phoenix to learn to fly the new aircraft, labeled the C and D models of the F-16. These models have a different cockpit configuration.The new planes will replace the A and B models now used by the 388th. The old jets will go to reserve and National Guard units, said Col. Charles R. Heflebower, 388th commander. Some already have been reassigned.
Heflebower said the first new Fighting Falcon is expected at Hill in late April or early May.
Although other wings have received C and D models, Heflebower said the 388th will be the first operational wing to receive the plane. Called "block 40" models, the planes earmarked for Hill actually have improvements over the initial Cs and Ds.
A and C models are single-seat fighters. B and D types seat two for training purposes. Heflebower said each of the wing's three squadrons will receive about two F-16Ds.
The conversion officially starts in July, Heflebower said, and should be completed a year from now after three quarterly steps. The 34th Tactical Fighter Squadron will be the first to get the new jets. The 421st TFS is scheduled to begin converting in October. The 4th TFS starts next January.
Lt. Jennifer Fay, wing spokeswoman, said the first pilots will begin training in April. More will follow in June.
Pilot training at Luke will average 21 days, Fay said. Maintenance workers will undergo an average of six weeks of training at Hill.
Operations will undergo little immediate change, Fay said, but the 388th will begin flying more at night in a year or two when it receives and attaches pods for low-altitude navigation and targeting in the dark.
That and other electronic innovations are the biggest improvements in the new F-16s, said said Joe Stout, spokesman for the air plane's builder, General Dynamics.
In addition, he said, the cockpit layout is improved so the pilot has more information in front of him and doesn't need to look down as often for controls.
Some of the controls will be for a new weapon called AMRAAM, for Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile.
The 388th's C and D models will be powered by a General Electric engine in which the Air Force has found some cracks. The service has ordered inspection of those with 350 or more hours of use. Heflebower said he is confident the problem will be corrected before the 388th receives its aircraft.
The new engines have an improved broad-performance range and require less maintenance than older jets, Stout said.