Final operational F-16s depart Hill

The last six operational F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft lifted off from the runway here Sept. 21 at approximately 11 a.m. on their way to Holloman AFB, New Mexico, where they will continue flying.

An F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft takes off from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, Sept. 21, 2017. This jet and five others were the last operational F-16s to depart the base, primarily for Holloman AFB, New Mexico. Hill AFB will be home to three operational fighter squadrons with 78 F-35s by the close of 2019. (U.S. Air Force photo by R. Nial Bradshaw)

HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah -- The last six operational F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft lifted off from the runway here Sept. 21 at approximately 11 a.m. on their way to Holloman AFB, New Mexico, where they will continue flying.

Several military and civilian Airmen watched as pilots stepped to the jets and taxied away for takeoff. The operational F-16s, which have been assigned here since 1979, are leaving to make room for F-35A Lightning II fighter jets.

Senior Airman Joe Pearson, a crew chief assigned to the 421st Aircraft Maintenance Unit, was excited to launch tail number 354, which was adorned with a ceremonial tail design commemorating 38 years of operational F-16s at Hill AFB.

“I’m 20 years old so to be crewing an aircraft that’s been around since way before I was born is amazing,” he said. “To be able to actually launch one of the last ones out is also amazing.”

Pearson and many other maintenance Airmen have already transitioned or will transition to the F-35A, which the base began receiving in 2015.

“I think it’s going to be lot different working on a 21st century, fifth-gen fighter,” he said, “but it’s going to be fun.”

While operational F-16s will no longer fly from the base, the airframe will remain part of Hill AFB’s Ogden Air Logistics Complex depot maintenance workload for years to come.

Hill AFB will be home to three operational fighter squadrons with 78 F-35As by the close of 2019. The active duty 388th Fighter Wing and Air Force Reserve 419th Fighter Wing will fly and maintain the jets in a Total Force partnership, which capitalizes on the strengths of both components.