Military Aviation

First Air Force Reserve Unit set to receive the F-35 Marks historic milestone with final F-16 deployment

The first Air Force Reserve Unit set to receive the F-35

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.

As told by Tech. Sgt. Alexander Frank, 378th Air Expeditionary Wing, in the article Farewell to the Falcon: 457th EFS concludes last deployment flying the F-16, 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.

According to Air & Space Forces Magazine, the 301st will be the first Air Force Reserve Command wing equipped with the F-35. It is expected to receive its first fifth-generation fighter in 2024, but to reach that point, it will have to say goodbye to its longtime F-16s.

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.

An F-16C “Fighting Falcon” assigned to the 457th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron (EFS) sits on the taxiway before taking off from Prince Sultan Air Base (PSAB), Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Jun. 13, 2023. This August, the 457th EFS will redeploy to their home station at the 301st Fighter Wing (FW), Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base, Fort Worth, TX.

Final F-16 deployment

“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 US 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.

Seven-hour sorties

“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.

US Airmen assigned to the 457th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron (EFS) pose for a group picture on Prince Sultan Air Base (PSAB), Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Jun. 4, 2023. This August, the 457th EFS will redeploy to their home station at the 301st Fighter Wing (FW), Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base, Fort Worth, TX. The 457th EFS deployment to PSAB marks the last time the fighter squadron will deploy with their F-16C aircraft as the 301st FW transitions to the F-35.

F-35A for the Air Force Reserve

“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.

As per the unit’s history, the 301st FW’s long, rich history began when the wing was activated in 1944 as the 301st Tactical FW. The wing, which flew the P-47 Thunderbolt during World War II, was deactivated in 1949. In 1972, the wing was reactivated and assigned the F-105D Thunderchief with the Thunderstick II modification. They later converted to the F-4D Phantom II in 1981, the F-4E in 1987, and the F-16C/D Fighting Falcon in 1991.

The F-35A is the US Air Force’s latest fifth-generation fighter. The Lightning II will replace the service’s aging fleet of F-16 Fighting Falcons which have been the primary fighter aircraft for decades, and bring with it an enhanced capability to survive in the advanced threat environment in which it was designed to operate. With its aerodynamic performance and advanced integrated avionics, the F-35A will provide next-generation stealth, enhanced situational awareness, and reduced vulnerability for the US and allied nations.

Photo credit: Tech. Sgt. Alexander Frank / U.S. Air Force

This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. F-35A Lightning II 56th OG, 61st FS, LF/12-5050 / 2014
Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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