SOURCES AND THANKS
This article would have been impossible without the help of the F-4 Phantom II Society and in particular Doug Slowiak for arranging such good photo access at Luke during 'PhanCon 2000 Det2'. Thanks also to those at the 56th Fighter Wing Public affairs for hosting us. Unless stated otherwise all 'on-base' photographs were taken on the 1st November 2000 during this superbly organised tour. All approach shots were taken on 1st and 2nd November 2000 from the public road to the north-east of the base whilst runway 21 Left was in use.
  Tail Code by Patrick Martin. Schiffer   World Air Power Journal (Various Issues)
  USAF & Navy '2000 (Mach III plus publication)   56th Fighter Wing and Barry M. Goldwater Range Home Pages
  F-16 Net website   United States Military Aircraft Serials. Aviation Associates
  Joe Baugher's US Military Aircraft web-site   F-16 Fighting Falcons by David F. Brown & Robert F. Dorr. Osprey
  F-16 Fighting Falcon by Robbie Shaw. Airlife   Military Aviation Review (Various Issues)

In 1971 the last link with the century series of USAF fighters was broken when the 311th Tactical Fighter Training Squadron of the 58th Tactical Fighter Training Wing traded its weary F-100D Super Sabres for F-4C Phantom IIs, retaining the 'LA' tail code for 'Luke Arizona'. Sister squadron the 310th TFTW converted from A-7D Corsairs to F-4Cs around the same time as F-4 replacement training became established at Luke.

The 58th TFTW had commenced F-4 training operations in 1970 when the 550th TFTS received its first F-4Cs. The 426th TFTS exchanged its F-100Ds for F-4Cs in 1971 and operated the Phantom until conversion to the F-15A/B Eagle to commence training operations on that aircraft in 1981. Assigned to the Luke based 58th TFTW, but actually operating from nearby Williams AFB, the 425th TFTS operated F-5 F-5B/E/F models between 1973 and 1989.

In 1979 the 'LA' coded Luke and Williams resident squadrons of the then 58th Tactical Training Wing transferred to the 405th Tactical Training Wing without moving bases. This transfer included the 461st TFTS and 555th TFTS which had commenced F-15A/B Eagle training operations in 1977 and 1974 respectively, as the need for F-4 aircrew began to decline and McDonnell-Douglas' new breed of fighter gained ascendancy. The 426th TFTS converted to F-15A/Bs in 1981, and the 461st began transition to the new F-15E Strike Eagle in 1988.

The first assignment of the F-16 Fighting Falcon to Luke AFB was to be in early 1983, when both the 310th TFTS and 311th TFTS were reassigned to the 58th Tactical Training Wing following the end of F-4 operations in late 1982. Both squadrons wore the new 'LF' tail code for 'Luke Falcon' and operated the F-16A/B model in the training role. They were joined by the F-16C/D assigned 312th TFTS and 314th TFTS in 1984 and 1986 respectively, and by 1991 all four units were flying F-16C/Ds.

A major shake-up of the main commands of the USAF took place in the early 1990s. With the end of the Cold War and newly learned lessons from the 1991 Gulf War, Tactical Air Command and Strategic Air Command were replaced by Air Combat Command. Air Mobility Command took over airlift and refuelling assets, and Air Education and Training Command was established to control all levels of flying training. At this time the designators 'Strategic' and 'Tactical' were removed from wing and squadron titles, thus the Luke Wing became the 58th Fighter Wing.

By 1994 F-15 air defence training had been concentrated at Tyndall AFB in Florida, with resident Luke Eagle squadrons reduced the 461st and 550th Fighter Squadrons flying the F-15E. Strike Eagle training at Luke was to cease later that year with assets transferred to the 4th Fighter Wing at Seymour-Johnson AFB, North Carolina. The 311th FS, 312th FS and 314th FS, all on F-16C/Ds at Luke, had been disbanded and replaced by the 63rd FS which had relocated from the 56th FW at MacDill AFB Florida. With Luke now earmarked as the sole active duty USAF F-16 training base, the wing was re-designated the 56th Fighter Wing following the transfer of that unit and its assigned 61st and 62nd Fighter Squadrons, with F-16C/Ds, from MacDill AFB.

The 56th Fighter Wing then increased to an allocation of seven F-16 squadrons with the relocation of the 308th and 309th Fighter Squadrons from Hurricane battered Homestead AFB, Florida to join the 61st, 62nd, 63rd, 310th and 425th Fighter Squadrons. The current line up of eight squadrons was completed in 1997 with the establishment of the 21st Fighter Squadron to train Taiwanese Air Force pilots. Since 1987 the eight squadrons of 'LF' coded 56th FW F-16s have shared Luke Air Force base with a single Air Force Reserve squadron, the 302nd Fighter Squadron, tail coded 'LR' for 'Luke Reserves'. The squadron was initially assigned to the 944th Tactical Fighter Group/419th Tactical Fighter Wing, but currently reports to the 944th Fighter Wing.

In addition to the 4,000 acres occupied by Luke AFB at Glendale, the 56th Fighter Wing is also responsible for the administration and management of the 2.7 million acre Barry M. Goldwater Range. The range is the second largest tactical aviation range in the USA (Nellis and associated ranges being the largest) and is actually split into two areas. The Gila Bend (eastern) part is some 1.65 million acres and its airspace and land are controlled by the Air Force. The Yuma (western) part is just over 1 million acres and is controlled by the Marine Corps for use by aircraft based and deployed to MCAS Yuma.

The range is split into a series of areas designated for air-to-air combat manoeuvres and air-to-ground weapons delivery. Targets include simulated airfields, truck convoys, SAM sites and artillery batteries. In addition to 56th FW, 944th FW and Yuma based units, regular users of the ranges include the F-16s of the 162nd FW Arizona ANG at Tucson, the A-10s of the 355th Wing at Davis-Monthan AFB, AH-64 Apache helicopters of the Western Army National Guard Aviation Site (WAATS) and Air National Guard fighter units at Davis-Monthan for winter 'Snowbird' deployments.

With such huge spaces in the western Arizona desert and clear weather skies for most of the year, Luke AFB and its ranges have been an important training asset for the United States Air Force for many years. This is likely to remain the case for the foreseeable future, with no end in sight for the F-16 Fighting Falcon in the service of the US and her allies.

'Last Chance' ground crews walk back from the EOR arming area. The wheel chocks are used to prevent any movement and ensure ground crew safety as each aircraft is checked over in turn. The EOR crew at Luke must be amongst the hardest worked in the Air Force - with around two hundred F-16s at Luke, daily launches can easily reach triple figures.
© Peter Greengrass
EOS-1V 70-200mm K25 125/F7.1
308th Fighter Squadron 'Boss Bird' 88-0511, a Block 42D F-16C, crosses the eastern perimeter fence en-route the 21 Left threshold, accompanied by 88-0167, a Block 42C F-16D.
© Tim Hunter
EOS-5 70-200mm K64 250/F5.6

56TH FIGHTER WING CURRENT ESTABLISHMENT

21 FS The 21st Fighter Squadron, 'The Gamblers', operate the Block 20 F-16A/B for the Taiwanese Air Force, under a three year pilot training programme called 'Peace Fenghuang'. This is the only squadron at Luke to operate the original F-16 variant, which are unusual in being 93 fiscal year serial new build Block 20 aircraft. Prior to reforming at Luke in 1997, the 21st Tactical Fighter Training Squadron operated F-4Es at George AFB, California until 1993.
61 FS The 61st Fighter Squadron, known as the 'Top Dogs' fly a mix of F-16C Block 25B and F-16D Block 25E aircraft, to train pilots for Air Combat Command postings. The unit was previously assigned to the 56th Tactical Training Wing at MacDill AFB, Florida, which was responsible for replacement training on the F-16, until the wing transferred to Luke in 1994. Prior to that, as part of the 56th Tactical Fighter Wing, the 'Top Dogs' flew F-4Es and then F-4Ds, converting to F-16A/Bs in 1980.
62 FS The 62nd Fighter Squadron are called 'Spike', and wear their name in blue on a white fin band. Aircraft operated are a mix of F-16Cs and F-16Ds from Blocks 42C and 42D. The squadron formerly flew both D and then E model F-4s at MacDill as part of the 56th TFW until October 1980. Conversion to the F-16A/B began around the same time, as did the re-designation of the unit as the 56th Tactical Training Wing. Relocation to Luke took place in 1994.
63 FS The 63rd Fighter Squadron flies F-16Cs and F-16Ds drawn from production Blocks 42E,42G and 42J, and are known as the 'Panthers'. The first of the three former 'MC' tail coded MacDill based squadrons with the 56th TFW/TTW to be transferred to Luke, the 'Panthers' also operated D and E model Phantoms before F-16 conversion commenced in October 1981.
308 FS The 308th Fighter Squadron, the 'Emerald Knights', fly Block 42 F-16C/Ds, wearing the dark green and white checkerboard fin band. Formerly assigned to the 31st Tactical Fighter Wing at Homestead AFB, Florida, the squadron operated F-4Es between 1972 and 1982, then F-4Ds until conversion to F-16A/Bs in 1986. Wing tailcode was 'ZF' until December 1986, when changed to 'HS'. Homestead was closed as a front line operational base following extensive damage inflicted by Hurricane Andrew in August 1992. The 308th FS, along with sister squadron the 309th, joined the numerically consecutive 310th FS with the 56th Fighter Wing at Luke in 1994 with the 'LF' tail code.
309 FS The 309th Fighter Squadron wear their 'Wild Ducks' name in white on a blue fin band. The squadron flies F-16C and F-16D machines drawn from production Blocks 25 and 42. Prior to that aircraft operated were F-16A/Bs , preceded by E and D model F-4s whilst assigned to the 31st Tactical Fighter Wing at Homestead AFB, Florida. The 31st Fighter Wing is now resident at Aviano Air Base, Italy, as part of the 16th Air Force, USAFE, with the 555th and 510th Fighter Squadrons assigned.
310 FS The 310th Fighter Squadron are known as the 'Top Hats' and fly Block 42 F-16C and D models. The squadron was previously assigned to the Luke based 58th Tactical Training Wing, along with the now disbanded 311th, 312th and 314th Fighter Squadrons. The 310th and 311th operated F-4Ds with 'LA' tailcodes until conversion to the F-16A/B between 1982 and 1984. Conversion to F-16C/D models commenced in 1989, and the Wing was re-designated as the 56th Fighter Wing in 1994.
425 FS The 425th Fighter Squadron, the 'Black Widows' wear a red/black fin band and are unique in USAF assigned combat aircraft as they also wear the Lions head insignia of the Singapore Air Force in place of the USAF 'star and bar'. Singapore received its first eight F-16A/B models in 1998, those being Block 15 aircraft with the strengthened airframes of the Block 30 variant. These 'Peace Carvin' aircraft remained at Luke initially for pilot work up training, and were joined by nine leased F-16As formerly operated by the USAF 'Thunderbirds'. In July 1994 the Singapore government announced 'Peace Carvin II', which saw the purchase of eighteen Block 52 F-16C/Ds (eight F-16Cs and 10 F-16Ds). Nine of these machines now form the 425th FS at Luke AFB for training.
944TH FIGHTER WING CURRENT ESTABLISHMENT
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Six F-16s of the 63rd Fighter Squadron line up at the 'Last Chance Pits', as a seventh rolls into place at the end of the line. Ear defenders are a must for all personnel (including photographers!) at the EOR with so many Pratt & Whitney F100 engines running in unison within 100 metres. Mass launches such as these are common place at Luke, and help explain why this is amongst the busiest military airbases in the world.

© Tim Hunter
EOS-5 70-200mm K25 90/f8
Groundcrew and aircrew of F-16D 84-1329 look on from the 'Last Chance Pits' as a pair of 308th Fighter Squadron Fighting Falcons begin their take off roll on Runway 21 Left. The scene at the End Of Runway area is one of constant activity during busy flight operations. As soon as one group of Falcons taxies away for take off, the next mission group arrives from the flightline.
EOS-3 70-200mm K25 180/f5.6
F-16Cs 90-0722 and 90-0754 of the 63rd Fighter Squadron 'Panthers' fly an immaculate pairs approach to Runway 21 Left. Both aircraft are Block 42 machines, of which 744 were originally built. Interestingly, Block 42 production has recently restarted following orders from Bahrain and Egypt, with 30 plus aircraft to be assembled under licence in Turkey. Israel is another operator of this model of F-16C/D.
EOS-5 70-200mm K64 350/f5.6
86-0283 is the 'Boss Bird' of the 944th Fighter Wing, Air Force Reserve Command. The aircraft is a Block 32D F-16C, and in addition to the Wing titles, wears the standard 'LR' tailcode, red and yellow trident fin band and 'Sun Devil' badge, but unlike the 56th FW aircraft does not feature the falcon motif behind the cockpit.
EOS-5 70-200mm K64 350/f5.6
Assigned as the Squadron Commander's aircraft of the 61st Fighter Squadron, this 'Top Dogs' F-16C 83-1161 is from production block 25B. Seen here starting to move away from 'Last Chance', the aircraft carries US 370 gallon tanks on the inner wing pylons but no centreline tank.
EOS-5 70-200mm K25 180/f5.6
97-0121 is Block 52 F-16C assigned to the 425th Fighter Squadron, and wears the Singapore Air Force lions head insignia, repeated in the series of red badges on the fin band. The Block 52 Fighting Falcon is equipped with the Northrop Grumman APG-68(V5) radar, with a greatly enhanced digital processor over that in the Block 40/42. The aircraft built for Singapore also have he Advanced Identification Friend or Foe (AIFF) system, evidenced by the blade aerial array forward of the cockpit.
EOS-5 70-200mm K64 350/f5.6
88-0175 is a Block 42 F-16D of the 308th Fighter Squadron, seen here approaching the 'Last Chance Pits'. Being a training unit, the 56th FW has a high proportion of two seater Delta model Falcons, although many missions appear to be flown with the rear seat empty. Rest assured that there are plenty of budding air-to-air photographers who would happily tag along for the ride! Still, we're not complaining at the EOR photo-ops.
EOS-5 70-200mm K64 350/f5.6
F-16C Block 25E 84-1296 is the 62nd Fighter Squadron's 'Boss Bird', seen here taxiing to the de-arm area. The orange dummy AIM-9 Sidewinder on the left wing tip pylon is carried to balance weight, lift and drag with the active training round on the opposite pylon. Block 25 was the first F-16C/D version, external differences from the earlier F-16A/B were limited to the extended forward fin base and protruding UHF blade aerial. Engines were initially Pratt & Whitney F100-PW-200s, later replaced with more reliable F100-PW-220s.
EOS-5 70-200mm K64 500/f5.6

93-0816 is new build Block 20 F-16A machine operated by the 21st Fighter Squadron. Seen here approaching Runway 21 Left in the late afternoon sunshine, the extended fin base housing for the braking parachute is evident. The SUU-20 weapons dispenser on the outer wing pylon is a training pod designed to carry six BDU-76 practice bombs and four 2.75 inch rockets. In practice the rockets are rarely used, indeed many of the SUU-20 pods seen at Luke wear 'Bombs Only' stencils.
EOS-3 70-200mm K64 250/f5.6

The Reserve fliers of the 302nd Fighter Squadron fly Block 32 Vipers, such as F-16C 86-0211. Block 32 aircraft have Pratt & Whitney F100-PW-220 engines, which have improved compressor, augmentor and digital control systems, overcoming the stagnation stall problems of earlier F100 powerplants. Block 30 aircraft have an alternative solution - the more powerful General Electric F-110_GE-100, developed as a result of USAF concern over the F-100 stall problems. Block 30 and 32 aircraft have a common engine bay able to house either type, but in reality the differing air intake requirements mean such engine changes are not possible.
EOS-5 70-200mm K25 180/f5.6
Photographed by Don Logan in September 1998, Block 42F F-16C 89-2056 is the Wing Commanders mount, or 'Boss Bird', of the 56th Fighter Wing. and wears highlighted '56FW' titles. Block 42 Vipers are powered by Pratt and Whitney F100-PW-220 turbofan engines. Significant external differences from earlier Blocks include longer landing gear to increase ground clearance to the LANTIRN pods, with larger wheels and tyres, and bulged gear doors to accommodate them. The 56th FW at Luke was, in its previous guise as the 58th TTW, the first operator of the Block 42 F-16.
Don Logan
Prominent in this view of F-16D Block 52 96-5034 on approach is the enlarged spine, similar to that on some Israeli Falcons, housing additional avionics packages to enhance the air to ground mission. This variant of the F-16 is an extremely capable all weather and night attack aircraft, and also features a wide angle HUD, upgraded APG-68 radar and enhanced IFF system.
EOS-5 70-200mm K64 250/f5.6
F-16C Block 25B 83-1158 of the 62nd Fighter Squadron flies an approach to Runway 21 Left following an air combat training mission. Luke has two parallel runways, which can play havoc with approach photography. Fortunately whilst Sharpshooter was in attendance, 21 Right was closed for maintenance, making our job a lot easier. 21 Left approaches are all photographable on a 200mm lens.
EOS-5 70-200mm K64 350/f5.6
83-1121 is a Block 25 F-16C assigned to the 62nd Fighter Squadron, seen here on the 'Spike' Flightline on the northern part Luke ramp. The flightlines are slowly being covered over with lightweight sunshade structures, intended to shield the aircraft and ground crews from the punishing Arizona temperatures. The sun covers mean that ramp photography at Luke will become an impossible task, but the 'Spike' area was not yet afflicted at the time of our visit. Soon the only place to shoot 'LF' Vipers in the sun will be EOR, approach, or another airfield!
EOS-5 70-200mm K64 500/f5.6
This head on shot depicts F-16C Block 52 96-5034 taxiing towards the end of runway de-arm area to have safety pins refitted to live weapons and landing gear lock down mechanism. The 'Humpback' Block 52 Vipers of the 425th Fighter Squadron are all-weather and night capable, and routinely fly with the LANTIRN system (Low Altitude Navigation & Targeting, Infra-Red, Night) The AAQ-13 navigation pod is mounted on the left hand side of the intake, with the AAQ-14 targeting pod on the right, the reverse of the F-15E Strike Eagle configuration.
EOS-5 70-200mm K64 250/f5.6
Seen taxiing towards the EOR de-arm area following a training hop, Block 52 F-16D 96-5033 of the 425th FS shows off its 'Humpback' spine. Block 52 F-16s are powered by Pratt & Whitney F100-PW-229 engines, whereas Block 50 machines use the General Electric F110-GE-129. Both powerplants offer significant power increases over those in earlier aircraft, a necessity considering that the weight of the current production model is over 3000 pounds greater than that of the original F-16A/B.
EOS-5 70-200mm K64 350/f5.6
A mixed group of Fighting Falcons from the 302nd and 308th Fighter Squadrons await final preflight checks. It is a myth that the Air Force Reserve are purely 'Weekend Warriors', but we were pleasantly surprised to see so many 'LR' machines launch on a weekday. All the exhaust nozzles seen here are attached to F100 engines - all Luke based aircraft, including the Singapore examples, are Pratt & Whitney powered - no General Electric servicing available here!
EOS-5 70-200mm K25 90/f8
90-0770 is an F-16C Block 42K of the 310th Fighter Squadron 'Top Hats', seen approaching Runway 21 Left in the fading November afternoon sunshine. In addition to AIM-9L Sidewinders, the aircraft carries LAU-68/131 rocket pods, each equipped to contain seven 2.75 inch unguided rockets. 56th Fighter Wing aircraft regularly use the Barry M. Goldwater Range, between Luke and the California border, for live fire air to ground weapons training.
EOS-5 70-200mm K64 250/f6.7
90-0752 is a Block 42J F-16C of the 63rd Fighter Squadron, seen at EOR prior to departing on a morning mission. All the 56th Fighter Wing squadrons wear the Falcon motif in light grey behind cockpit, and the full colour Air Education & Training Command badge on the fin. Serial numbers and tailcodes are currently worn in dark grey, the change from black occurring in the mid-1990s. Abbreviated serial numbers are carried on the aircraft noses.
EOS-5 70-200mm K25 90/F8
F-16C 84-1239 is a Block 25C machine belonging to the 309th Fighter Squadron, wearing their 'Wild Ducks' name on the fin band. Noteworthy in this shot taken at EOR is the limited ground clearance to the centreline US 300 gallon fuel tank.
EOS-5 70-200mm K25 90/f8
Photographed in 1997, we have included this shot of 86-0291 for the obvious reason of its non-standard colour scheme. Painted up as the 302nd Fighter Squadron Commander's aircraft, the all red fin, canopy outline and Arizona sunburst on rudder and intake make this one of the most colourful USAF F-16s to date. The aircraft still wears '302 FS' titles, although now in a more subdued nature. A similarly specially marked withdrawn from use F-16 now acts as 944th Fighter Wing gate guard.
Bob Shane
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VIPERTOWN USA
Luke Air Force base, the current home of the 56th Fighter Wing, is located in Glendale, Arizona, some 20 miles to the west of the state capital Phoenix. The recent history of the base is somewhat complex with significant changes in assigned units and aircraft over the last 30 years. One thing is certain though, with currently nine squadrons of F-16s operating from the vast ramp and parallel runways, Luke can justifiably claim to be the largest and busiest military air base in the western world.

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All photos (unless noted) ©Tim Hunter
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302 FS The 302nd Fighter squadron is the only unit assigned to the 944th Fighter Wing Air Force Reserve Command, and as a tenant unit at Luke wears the 'LR' (Luke Reserve) tailcode as opposed to the 'LF' of the resident 56th Fighter Wing. Initially designated as the 944th Fighter Group as a single unit administration, the first Block 32 F-16C/D models were received in 1987 and have been operated ever since in the air to ground role. Prior to that, the 302nd was designated as a Special Operations Squadron (SOS) and had flown CH-3E helicopters with 'LH' tail codes since 1974.