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March 22, 2013

Luke reaches millionth hour milestone

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STEPHEN DELGADO
Thunderbolt staff writer

The millionth F-16 Fighting Falcon flying training hour at Luke Air Force Base was reached March 13. F-16s first touched down at Luke AFB on Dec. 6, 1982. To date, Luke has graduated 18,164 F-16 fighter pilots. Approximately 2,000 F-16 hours are flown a month by Luke pilots and students.

Translating a million hours into years equals 114 years and one month. Going that far back in time places a person in February of 1899.

Luke Air Force Base reached an F-16 milestone March 13 when a Fighting Falcon took to the skies marking a million flying hours in this venerable aircraft at Luke.

The historic flight was flown by 1st Lt. Matthew Wetherbee, 309th Fighter Squadron student pilot, and Capt. Joseph Walker, 309th Fighter Squadron instructor pilot and assistant chief of weapons.

“I was Lieutenant Wetherbee’s instructor pilot of record and flew in the rear cockpit,” Walker said. “The flight went very well, with Lieutenant Wetherbee performing tactical intercepts to achieve a visual identification of a simulated enemy aircraft and employ weapons. My role was to ensure safe execution and provide airborne instruction to ensure that the desired learning objectives were met.”

Col. John Hanna, 56th Operations Group commander, said that Luke is the first base to achieve the 1-million-hour mark.

“This feat was quite an historic event, and I was honored to be part of it,” he said. “I started flying the F-16 with the 62nd Fighter Squadron in 1989 when we used to do much of the F-16 training at MacDill AFB, Fla.

“As an instructor in the 309th FS from 2002 to 2003, it was neat to have a young lieutenant be the one to actually hit the mark. He’ll be able to carry that his whole career and it was fitting that a student be the one, since the milestone was reached at the premier F-16 training base in the world. It was even more special since this great event occurred in the same squadron where I was previously assigned.”

What’s more, Walker praised the quality of students who train at Luke, and said he looks forward to continuing this legacy.

“The caliber of students we receive here makes my job much easier and very rewarding,” he said. “Their motivation and desire to learn is remarkable. I am very pleased to have a part in the mission of training the fighter pilots of tomorrow. I hope Luke continues to fly fighters and train fighter pilots for another million hours, if not in the F-16, then in other fighters, continuing the tremendous history and legacy of this base.”

The F-16 arrived at Luke Dec. 6, 1982, and since then thousands of students have been trained here.




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