The USAF’s 457th Fighter Squadron (FS) ‘Spads’ – a component of Air Force Reserve Command (AFRC) – is preparing to relinquish its F-16C/D Fighting Falcons for the F-35A Lightning II, after operating the former for more than 30 years.
As part of the 301st Fighter Wing (FW), the unit – which is headquartered at Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base (NAS JRB) Fort Worth, Texas, will become the first AFRC unit to operate the fifth-generation fighter. The ‘Spads’ were operating out of Prince Sultan Air Base (PSAB), Saudi Arabia, in support of Operation Inherent Resolve duties when the announcement was made on August 9 and was set to return home shortly thereafter. Once the unit has returned home, its F-16C/Ds will be dispersed between Nellis AFB, Nevada, to become part of the 64th Aggressor Squadron (AGRS) ‘Gomers’, and Homestead Air Reserve Base in Florida to join the 93rd FS ‘Makos’. The first F-35As will arrive at NAS JRB Fort Worth in 2024.
Lt Col David Snodgrass, commander of the 457th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, highlighted how the unit’s connection with the F-16C/D spans decades. “My favourite thing about the F-16 [is] its manoeuvrability and the unobstructed view from the cockpit,” he said. “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 US Air Forces Central’s (AFCENT’s) 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 ‘Spads’ were well prepared for.
“The main challenge for pilots [was] the seven-hour duration of the sorties along with balancing multiple mission types,” Snodgrass said. “We began preparing for the deployment as soon as we found out about our mobilisation [and] completed exercises practicing Agile Combat Employment concepts and close air support skills prior to arriving that prepared us for the challenges here.”