Luke Air Force Base – December 2013
Article and Photos by Steven Valinski
Since I spent several days in December observing/photographing aircraft at Luke Air Force Base, it seems fitting that my last article of 2013 should cover Luke Air Force Base. My main purpose for observing aircraft at Luke those days was to catch the Republic of Singapore Boeing F-15SG models, and other aircraft, participating in Exercise Forging Sabre. Since I covered Forging Sabre in another article, I felt that I neglected to capture what Luke AFB is currently all about…Vipers.
Under the command of the 56th Fighter Wing (56 FW), Luke AFB is a major training base for the F-16 Fighting Falcon and, soon, the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II. Luke is also home to several training squadrons for foreign air forces such as the 21st Fighter Squadron (Republic of China (Taiwan)) and the 425th Fighter Squadron (Republic of Singapore). As an aviation photographer/enthusiast, what attracts me to Luke AFB is the variety of Vipers that fly in and out of Luke. Whether it is the 425th FS’s Lockheed Martin produced Block 52’s, the 21st FS’s A&B models (block 20’s built in the 90’s), or the 62nd FS’s Block 25’s built in early part of the 80’s, Luke AFB does not disappoint fans of the Viper or aviation enthusiasts in general.
While currently Luke AFB’s mission statement states: “Train the world’s greatest F-16 fighter pilots while deploying mission-ready warfighters”, this will soon have to be modified to include the F-35. Beginning in early 2014, Luke AFB will begin receiving F-35’s. The first F-35 Luke receives will be production number 100 off the Lockheed Martin production line. While it may take years to determine the effectiveness of the F-35, there is no doubt that the F-16 Fighting Falcon has served it’s purpose and served it on a global scale. According to a 2012 Rueters article, over 4,450 F-16s have been delivered to 26 nations since production began in 1976. With the current cost of an F-35 ($159 million and rising), do not expect production of the Lightning II to reach those numbers anytime soon.
When observing aircraft at Luke AFB it’s hard to imagine that in a few years the skies around Glendale, Arizona will see more F-35’s and less F-16’s. While I will save my opinion on the F-35 for another article, I will truly miss the F-16. For this sentimental reason, finishing off 2013 observing/photographing many of F-16’s based at Luke AFB was an appropriate ending to 2013.