Viper Out -158th Fighter Wing – Vermont Air National Guard
158th Fighter Wing – Vermont Air National Guard
Burlington International Airport
6 April 2019
In December 2013, it was announced that the 158th Fighter Wing of the Vermont Air National Guard would be the first Air National Guard unit to receive the F-35A Lightning II, and will receive the first of its 18 planned jets in the Fall of 2019.
On 6 April 2019, the 158th FW celebrated the end of 33 years operating the F-16 Fighting Falcon, or better known as the Viper. I had the honor of being present at this historic event, where there would be speakers and the departure of the last 4 Vipers as they headed off to other units to continue their service. The unit had deployed numerous times around the world and passed many readiness inspections with the Viper during those 33 years.
The 158th FW operated the following variants of the F-16:
Block 10 F-16A Pratt & Whitney engine from 1986
Block 15 F-16ADF P&W from 1992
Block 25 F-16C P&W from 1994
Block 30 F-16C General Electric engine from 2008
With the Viper, the unit flew 85,000 sorties, 140,000 flight hours (with nearly 10,000 during combat), had a safety rate 4 times the USAF average, and had 11,000 fuel truck deliveries.
As the weather and sky would have it, it was completely overcast. The event started with a gathering in a building, where the presentation was to be held. Dignitaries and distinguished guests included General Greg Knight, the Adjutant General of the Vermont National Guard, and local leaders and representatives, including Governor Phil Scott. The crowd was so large that it overflowed into the parking lot, with the large garage-style doors open.
158th FW Vice Wing Commander Colonel Henry Harder opened the presentation, and introduced General Knight, who started his career in the 158th 35 years ago. 158th FW Wing Commander, Col. David Smith then was introduced and spoke. These were the only speakers at the presentation. A video was going to be played once Col. Smith was done, and at this point, Public Affairs had suggested to us it would be a good time to get to the viewing spot in order to see the jets depart.
We proceeded to walk to the viewing area not too far away from the edge of the runway. The amount of people on base was incredible – I heard it was estimated at 1,500. Additionally, on the opposite side of the airport, is the civilian airport. Hundreds had gathered at different spots, including the parking garage, to witness the event.
The 4 pilots flying the Vipers were:
Lt. Col. Brian “Moose” Sherry, commander of the 134th Fighter Squadron
Lt. Col. Daniel “Gump” Finnigan
Lt. Col. Matt “Sqwirl” Edson
Lt. Col. Chris “Pooter” Caputo
And the 4 Viper serial numbers were:
86-0276, 86-0288, 86-0328, 87-0312
Because of the major ongoing construction on-base, the Vipers were operating from the airport side. So, I was unable to get any prep and taxi shots. When we got to our spot, the jets were already running. After a few minutes they started to taxi, with a planned departure time of 1:58PM, to reflect the unit’s wing designation. The jets taxied on the airport side for a bit, as a procession, and they proceeded to the end of the runway right in front of us. There I was able to get a few good shots. They sat there for a moment, lined up in a row, and then moved one-by-one down the runway, in order to be able to take off towards us and to the south.
Working around the commercial traffic, and within a few moments, we all heard the familiar roar of the General Electric engines coming to life.
Each jet took off in full afterburner, and then came out of it, as the jet passed us, followed by a quick snap up and bank to the left, thus creating some decent vapor most of the time. Each jet re-entered the pattern and did 2 low approaches and subsequent breaks to the left.
After a few minutes, they all joined up and did a pass very far out in front of us, but then came around from the north and did a formation pass along the runway. They continued south over the mountains and then were out of sight, but their rumble echoed.
Many people stayed at the spot chatting with friends, family and colleagues.
A 33-year chapter had just closed – but an exciting one was about to open with the arrival of the F-35A Lightning II in the Fall – which I hope I will be able to cover as well.
I’d like to extend very special thanks to:
Lt Chelsea Clark, 158th FW Public Affairs
Entire 158th FW Public Affairs Team
Entire Army Public Affairs Team
Security Forces at the gate, for a seamless and friendly entrance, considering the thousands of people that passed through that day
All past and present members of the 158th Fighter Wing, for their dedication and commitment to the United States
Scott Zeno for confirming crew names for this article