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Luke Air Force Base - 75 Years of Airpower
2016 marks 75 years since construction first began of Luke AFB in 1941; however, it was called Litchfield Park Air Base at the time. This year also happened to be the bi-annual air show and open house hosted by the 56th Fighter Wing. Headlining the show was the United States Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron, Thunderbirds, which actually had their start at Luke Air Force Base in 1953 before moving to Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada in 1956. Along with the Thunderbirds, the US Army Parachute Team, Golden Knights, also put on a high precision display that thrilled the audience. Other demonstrations included the first Heritage Flight Demonstration by the F-35 Heritage Flight Team, which just a month earlier was flying at the Heritage Flight Training and Certification Course at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona. Maj. Will “D-Rail” Andreotta and the entire team will be bringing the F-35 to perform at air shows all around the country to show off the aircraft. The Commemorative Air Force’s (CAF) Tora! Tora! Tora! Demonstration is a thrilling display that showcases the morning of December 7, 1941 in which the Empire of Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. The aircraft used during this demonstration included Mitsubishi A6M Zero’s, Aichi D3A Val’s, Nakajima B5N Kate’s, a Curtis P-40 Warhawk, and a Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress.
Luke Air Force Base is best known as Fighter Country with the establishment of six fighter squadrons comprising of F-16 and F-35 units. Not only is Luke home to the U.S. Air Force, but it is currently home to the Republic of China Air Force (RoCAF), Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) which operate the F-16 along side the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), Royal Norwegian Air Force (RNoAF), and soon, the Italian Air Force (Aeronautica Militare; AM) which operate the F-35A at Luke. With the build up of F-35 Lightning II operations at Luke, F-16 operations will slowly start dwindling down. The deactivation of the 308th Fighter Squadron “Emerald Knights” in 2015 paved the way for Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico to start training F-16 pilots and crews under command of the 54th Fighter Group, which falls under operational control of the 56th Fighter Wing. The units that are still operating at Luke Air Force Base include: 21st Fighter Squadron “Gamblers” (Block 20 F-16A/B), 309th Fighter Squadron “Wild Ducks” (Block 25 F-16C/D), 310th Fighter Squadron “Top Hats” (Block 42 F-16C/D), 425th Fighter Squadron “Black Widows” (Block 52 F-16C/D), 61st Fighter Squadron “Top Dogs” (F-35A), 62nd Fighter Squadron “Spikes” (F-35A).
The weather that Thursday and Friday provided was perfect for watching both military and civilian aircraft arrive for static and aerial displays. The Thunderbirds arrived on Thursday afternoon and flew around the base before landing. The F-35 Lightning also did a performance on Thursday and Friday to practice for the Heritage Flight Demo with a P-38 Lightning. Friday saw the Thunderbirds perform a practice flight with only three aircraft in order to get Thunderbird 5 re-qualified after having not flown for a month. Since the start of the air show season, the Thunderbirds have only been performing with 5 aircraft while the Lead Solo, Capt. Nicholas Eberling, remained grounded. The Luke Air Force Base air show marked the first time this air show season that the Thunderbirds performed with all six aircraft.
A big thank you to Kiley Dougherty and the rest of the 56th Fighter Wing Public Affairs staff for organizing a fantastic air show an open house and for also giving the media attendees a great experience!