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Last 163rd Fighter Squadron A-10C
The end of August 2023, a final sendoff of IN coded A-10C, with serial number 78-0692, marked the end of an era for the 163rd Fighter Squadron ‘Blacksnakes’, of the 122nd Fighter Wing, at Fort Wayne Air National Guard Base (IN), Scramble Magazine reports.
Although some of the oldest Warthogs belonging to the unit have been retired, most of the squadron’s A-10s are going to be transferred to other units and continue to provide decisive fire power to combatant commanders around the globe.
On Oct. 20, 2023 the arrival of two F-16Cs from Holloman AFB (NM) with serial numbers 88-0457 and 88-0466 started a new era at Fort Wayne. A special ceremony celebrating the arrival of the Fighting Falcon was held at Fort Wayne a day later. Upon arrival, ‘457’, which was also used in the aforementioned ceremony, was already adorned with the IN code. ‘466’ wore still its old HO Holloman code.
Second time F-16 Vipers for 163rd Fighter Squadron Blacksnakes
Noteworthy, it isn’t the first time F-16’s come to Fort Wayne. The 122nd Fighter Wing flew the F-16 Fighting Falcon for nearly two decades, including multiple overseas and combat deployments. They were a familiar sight at the Fort Wayne Air National Guard base and in the skies above Fort Wayne from 1991 to 2010.
In 2008, after having flown for 17 years with the block 25 aircraft, these F-16s were nearing the end of their planned operational lifespans. The aircraft the 122nd received were only somewhat newer; Block 30 F-16C/Ds, manufactured between 1987 and 1989. These models were provided by the Michigan Air National Guard 107th Fighter Squadron, which was then transitioning to the A-10 Thunderbolt II at the time. With the upgrade to the Block 30 aircraft, the tail code of the 163rd was changed from “FW” (Fort Wayne) to “IN” (Indiana) in 2009 when the 181st Fighter Wing at Hulman Field became a non-flying unit. However, only a few of the F-16s were re-coded.
In 2009 – the year the unit honored its predecessor unit – the 358th FG – with a heritage jet – it was decided that the squadron was to retire their 20-year-old F-16s and become an A-10 Thunderbolt II squadron. The conversion happened in 2010.
A-10 Warthog retirement
As we have already reported, the USAF Chief of Staff Gen. CQ Brown Jr. said on Mar. 7, 2023 the service would likely retire all its A-10 Warthog attack aircraft over the next five or six years.
Until recently, the USAF and Congress have disagreed over what to do with the iconic close air support aircraft (CAS). While the A-10 was known and beloved for its CAS role in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last two decades, the USAF says the low-and-slow-flying plane would not be able to survive in a fight against a nation with modern air defenses, like China.
The first A-10s to be retired have been those of the 163rd Fighter Squadron.
F-35s at Moody, F-16s at Gowen Field
As already explained, the Department of the Air Force selected Moody Air Force Base, Georgia, as the preferred location to receive the next active-duty F-35A Lightning II mission.
The two squadrons of F-35As are projected to begin arriving in FY29 and the number of personnel is expected to remain the same.
The Fiscal Year 2024 Program Objective Memorandum details department plans to retire 54 A-10 Thunderbolt IIs. If approved, six A-10s will be divested out of Moody AFB in FY24 with the remaining A-10s divesting by FY28.
The service also announced that the 124th Fighter Wing at Gowen Field Air National Guard Base, Idaho, is expected to transition to an F-16 Fighting Falcon mission.
The transition will better align the Department of the Air Force to support the National Defense Strategy and will allow the Idaho Air National Guard 124th FW to leverage existing fighter aircraft operations and maintenance expertise once its A-10 Thunderbolt IIs retire, beginning fall 2026.
Photo credit: Master Sgt. Hopper / U.S. Air Force