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Farewell to the Falcon: 457th EFS concludes last deployment flying the F-16

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Alexander Frank
  • 378th Air Expeditionary Wing

PRINCE SULTAN AIR BASE, Saudi Arabia.--The 457th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron stationed at Prince Sultan Air Base (PSAB), Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, is set to redeploy to its home station at the 301st Fighter Wing (FW), in Fort Worth, Texas. While redeploying itself can be a bittersweet moment, this rotation has added significance. For the 457th EFS, this will be the last time the squadron deploys with its fleet of F-16C “Fighting Falcon” aircraft.

Upon their return, the 457th’s stock of F-16s will be dispersed between Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, to be aggressors and to Homestead Air Reserve Base, Florida, to augment the 93rd Fighter Squadron fleet of F-16s. During this time, the 301st FW will transition to the F-35.

Lt. Col. David Snodgrass, 457th EFS commander, says the squadron's connection with the aircraft spans decades. For the Texas fighter squadron, the prospect of transitioning to a fifth-generation fighter is exciting but bittersweet nonetheless.

“These F-16s have been part of our squadron for almost 30 years and have safely carried [our] pilots through thousands of combat sorties,” said Snodgrass. “However, air combat has evolved and we are grateful our squadron has been chosen to convert to the F-35. We intend to carry the strong heritage of F-16 combat prowess forward to the new airplane.”

When it comes to the F-16, one of Snodgrass’s favorite aspects of the aircraft is its maneuverability and multi-capable functionality.

“My favorite thing about the F-16 [is] its maneuverability and the unobstructed view from the cockpit,” said Snodgrass. “I enjoy the fact that the Viper is a multi-role fighter that can carry almost every type of weapon, so there is always something new to learn or a tactical skill to practice.”

During their time at PSAB, the 457th flew across the U.S. Air Forces Central (AFCENT) area of responsibility (AOR) in support of Operations Inherent Resolve and Spartan Shield. The squadron also routinely flew non-combat Partner Nation Integration flights with allies across the AFCENT AOR. While the multi-faceted nature of the deployment was a challenge, it proved to be one the 457th was well prepared for.

“The main challenge for pilots [was] the seven-hour duration of the sorties along with balancing multiple mission types,” said Snodgrass. “We began preparing for the deployment as soon as we found out about our mobilization [and] completed exercises practicing Agile Combat Employment concepts and Close Air Support skills prior to arriving that prepared us for the challenges here.”

Working behind the scenes to make sure these sorties get off the ground are the dedicated maintainers of the 457th Expeditionary Fighter Generation Squadron (EFGS). While keeping the nearly 40-year-old F-16 in the air is an accomplishment in and of itself, Airmen from the 457th EFGS also had to contend with the intense heat, wind, and sand that come with operating in an austere environment.

“Compared to home station, [the] tempo is the biggest difference as it is nonstop maintenance along with flying,“ explained Lt. Col. Eric Wanless, 457th EFGS commander. “Heat and wind conditions make it tough as it limits repair time as we follow heat rest cycles.”

According to Lt. Col. Wanless, 457th EFGS maintainers can prepare an F-16 for flight in roughly four and a half hours, or twelve if a discrepancy is found. It’s an impressive feat given the age of the aircraft and the environment the team is operating in.

“I am amazed at the awesome work our maintenance folks do getting almost 40-year-old F-16s ready for us to fly every day, even in 115-degree weather or dust storms,” said Snodgrass. “Watching them fully engaged to get the job done in difficult conditions was humbling, and our hard-working maintainers are...the backbone of [our] airpower.”

As the 457th departs PSAB, it marks the end of the F-16 era for the fighter squadron. While the legacy of the F-16 is undeniable to the Airmen of the 457th, it's the people tied to that history who leave the brightest mark. Upon leaving PSAB, Lt. Col. Snodgrass expressed his appreciation for the Airmen of the 457th EFS and EFGS for their hard work and dedication during this final F-16 deployment.

“I will remember witnessing first-hand [our Airmen] solving problems with wisdom and hard work to get the mission done while taking care of one another,” said Snodgrass. “I am grateful to have deployed with this group of dedicated American warriors."