(Host) The longest flying F-16c in the United States flew her last mission Friday afternoon. VPR’s Jane Lindholm has more.
(Lindholm) The Lethal Lady, as she’s known, was purchased by the Vermont Air Guard in 1994. Since then the F-16c combat plane has flown training missions throughout the United States, as well as assisting in operations in Iraq. Operation Group Commander Colonel Dave Baczewski says this plane played an essential role in U.S. defense.
(Baczewski) "When we deployed overseas in our federal role in support of operation Iraqi Freedom, the singular mission that we did with that airplane was fly close air support in support of our ground troops in Iraq. Nothing more satisfying than supporting our Vermont Army Guard while they were on the ground in Iraq with our airplanes from Vermont.
(Lindholm) Friday’s flight put the Lethal Lady at 7 thousand, 2 hundred and five flying hours-a record for any F-16c in the United States military.
Colonel TJ Jackman was the pilot for the training mission. For him, this last flight was quite an honor.
(Jackman) "She’s an incredible bird. We’ve been through some pretty tough situations together over the years, several times in Iraq. She’s never let me down; she’s never let anyone down on the ground. So it was very bittersweet. I actually sat there and paused for a bit when we shut down because I realized that’s the last time I’m going to get to fly her."
(Lindholm) Colonel Jackman is also the Maintenance Group Commander, and he says it’s the maintenance crew that really deserves the recognition for this historic flight.
(Jackman) "The maintainers in the Vermont Green Mountain Boys are the best in the world and there’s no way this plane would have been the highest flying F-16 in the world if it hadn’t been for the quality of the maintenance guys and the dedication they have for keeping the jets flying."
(Lindholm) Even in her last moments, the Lethal Lady was working hard. The final flight included a simulation with members of the Army Guard who are preparing for deployment to Afghanistan.
Now parts of the plane will be used to repair other F-16s on the base. The rest was scheduled to go to the "Bone Yard" for scrap. But an outcry from fans and help from Senator Leahy will allow the plane to remain as a display in Vermont. And there are plans eventually for a display at Dulles Airport as part of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. Colonel Jackman says he’ll be among those going to visit.
(Jackman) "Absolutely. I look forward to someday taking my grandkids down there and introduce them. Now you’re going to get me all welled up man, no, I look forward to it."
For VPR News, I’m Jane Lindholm.
Photo: Jane Lindholm