Recently, Flite Test had the privilege to look into the inner workings of the 187th fighter wing, home of the Red Tails and got to talk the people who make it tick. It's not every day you see how an active base runs, so check it out!
About the F-16
The F-16 is, quite simply, a beast. Capable of supersonic flight, as you would expect, the General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon was first flown in 1974. Since then, around 4,500 have been produced. The aircraft that Josh Bixler flew in was an F-16 'D' a two-seater model. This particular variant costs somewhere in the region of $18.8 million per aircraft, somewhat more than any of our swappable designs. Fun fact of the day: the official name of the F-16 is 'Fighting Falcon', but this never really caught on. Instead, crews and pilots call it the 'Viper'. More information can be found at Lockheed Martin's official website.
About the 187th Fighter Wing (187 FW)
The squadron is based in Alabama and part of the Alabama Air National Gaurd. Originally, at its inception, the 187 FW was established as a Photo Reconnaissance Squadron in 1962. Throughout the 1970s, the squadron flew F-4D Phantoms that were retired from the Vietnam War. During the 1980s, the 187 FW was repurposed as a Tactical Fighter Squadron. It was at this time that the first F-16s were delivered - so the aircraft have been used by them for quite a long period of time.
This image is from Operation Dacian Viper in 2012, a three-week joint exercise with the Romanian Air Force.
About Military Ground Crews
Ground crews have been a necessity as long as military squadrons have existed. Their roles include the coordination of aircraft at the base, maintenance, directing, refuelling, rearming and many other important duties needed to keep these birds in the air and ready for action.
Some highlighted roles are:
- Airframe technicians
- Avionics technicians
- Flight dispatchers
Ground crews are also responsible for checking for FOD (Foreign Object Damage). Often, they have to do tasks to eliminate the risks of FOD to military aircraft such as sweeping the tarmac and picking up any stray bits and bobs that may find themselves on the airstrip.
Another fun fact is that I (the writer of this article, James) worked for a time as part of an airfield ground crew in England. Whenever anything started to blow across the field, we'd have to run after it, triumphantly catch it and exclaim that the FOD had been neutralised!
As mentioned, rearming is a major part of the Aircrew's job. All of the bombs here are assembled on site and then transported over the airfield to the awaiting aircraft. As Josh said, 'you don't want these arriving by FedEx or something'.
They can be rather large, some being 2000lbs. I wouldn't like to drop this.
Another entire section of the crew at the base are the people who support the machinery and gear that isn't actually the aircraft itself. This can be the ammunition loader trolleys or even just equipment such as the generators used to start the F-16s. There are a lot of things 'behind the scenes' that may not immediately jump out as obvious considerations when thinking about what's needed to keep a fighter wing operational.
It was a very special experience getting to shoot this episode of Flite Test with the 187th fighter wing. We hope you enjoyed getting to see this insight into how the ground crew works and what happens within the walls of the base. Keep on your toes for the next installment!
Article written by James Whomsley