Out with the old, in with the new

  • Published
  • By Capt. Michael Frye
  • 114th Fighter Wing
It's not every day a unit receives new aircraft. In fact, it's been nearly 20 years since the South Dakota Air National Guard has seen new jets, with the exception of four F-16s gained in 2006. But recently, that all changed. At the end of April, the 114th Fighter Wing saw two Block 40 aircraft arrive from Hill Air Force Base, Utah. Although the jets don't look much different from the outside, these newer aircraft boast a stronger frame, upgraded avionics, and a larger intake, which all come together to make a faster, more advanced fighter.

114th Fighter Wing Commander Col. Russ Walz had the distinction of landing the first block 40 jet, tail number 428, at Joe Foss Field, followed by Maj. Cory Kestel with tail number 463. Col. Walz has been flying F-16s for the past 19 years, while Maj. Cory Kestel has been flying them since 2001. Both agree adapting to the new aircraft was an easy transition.

With this change, the Airmen servicing the aircraft have had to adapt as well.
"There are a lot of differences, keeping the parts for the block 30 and 40 straight, and remembering what to look for between the two aircraft," said Senior Airman Ciara DeSmet. "It's been pretty easy and the Field Training Detachment instructor has been a big help."

Airman DeSmet has been a part of the 114th since 2006. She first learned her skills at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi Miss., and Sheppard Air Force Base in Texas. Airman DeSmet added that her training involved working on older aircraft and simulators, but this time the training comes in the form of hands-on with an active aircraft, but that making the change to block 40 aircraft wasn't so difficult.

"It's been exciting. We have new cards, which allows us to keep up with modern equipment," added Airman DeSmet, who has been working on the block 40 aircraft avionics since the beginning of June.

Master Sgt. Thomas Mitchell agrees. He came to the unit in in 1984, working in Avionics on A-7s before the unit switched to F-16s in 1991.

"Working with the A-7 required us do a lot of our own maintenance in a back shop," said Sgt. Mitchell. "Going to the F-16 block 30 allowed us to send the avionics to an intermediate shop."

The A-7s required a paper tape with a hole-punch series to do any upgrades. The F-16s brought software based avionics, which allowed updates at the jet, though laptops didn't become standard until 2005.

"We used an archaic computer system called an Edna Viper," remembers Sgt. Mitchell. "It was a huge computer that needed to be wheeled out to the jet. Now with the block 40s, there's more integration and interaction between systems, and the Operational Flight Programs can be loaded right at the jet with a laptop.

So what's the biggest improvement that Sgt. Mitchell notices?

"The Joint Helmet Mounted Unit," Sgt. Mitchell suggests. "Having the HUD in the visor allows the pilot to look around, lock on to a target, assess his surroundings, and come back to the locked on target without the need to reacquire that target," said Sgt. Mitchell.
In all, the 114th expects to see a total of 22 new F-16s by the end of summer. This new era in fighter technology is expected to carry us through the next decade, with hopes of the next generation aircraft to follow.

"The assignment of Block 40 F-16s provides strong affirmation by U.S. Air Force leaders of their confidence in the contributions of the South Dakota Air National Guard to our nation's defense," said Col. Russ Walz, commander of the 114th Fighter Wing. "This aircraft conversion will ensure that the 175th Fighter Squadron remains ready and relevant for many years to come."