The end of an era; 148th heritage F-16 takes off one last time

  • Published
  • By Audra Flanagan
  • 148th Fighter Wing

Who knew paint could create such magic?  Was it the paint?  Or was it the meaning behind the paint?

On Thursday, March 28, 2024, the 148th Fighter Wing’s heritage F-16, tail number 406, departed the 148th for the last time with its Air Force blue, yellow and white paint.  The jet is headed to Hill Air Force Base, Utah, for Service Life Extension Program (SLEP) modifications which includes a new, standard paint scheme.

The F-16 was designed in honor of the wing’s 75th anniversary by Master Sgt. Ben Riordan and Master Sgt. Karl Goon. It was inspired by the Wing’s emblem.  It showcased symbolic elements to include the winged arrowhead, Ursa Minor constellation, and Phoenix.  It also paid homage to our National Guard and Air National Guard history with a Minuteman and fighter jet silhouettes under the wings. 

The F-16 was painted by 148th personnel.  “We all knew it would be a daunting task from the design, sanding, prepping, masking, and painting,” said 148th Maintenance Group Commander, Col. Curt Grayson, “but the team was up for it and wouldn’t have it any other way.”

The heritage jet was unveiled to 148th Fighter Wing during the June 2023 drill.  The designers and painters were recognized for their efforts during the unveiling.

“It was good to see so many members want to get their picture taken with the jet,” said Goon. 

While there were some early comments suggesting the jet looked like one of the Blue Angels, the heritage jet was embraced by the whole community when they realized the symbolism. 

“Almost everyone would ask about the colors,” said Grayson. “My answer was easy as I could just point to our 148th Fighter Wing patch that I wear on the shoulder of my flight suit.”

The heritage F-16 was a popular static display at the Duluth Air Show in July of 2023 and other aviation-related events.

“Everyone loved seeing the paint job commemorating our anniversary and the wing,” said 179th Fighter Squadron pilot, Capt. Beth Hovland who flew the jet to OshKosh, Wis., for the Experimental Aircraft Association AirVenture 2023. “It was great to have a jet that people wanted to see.”

In January, the heritage jet traveled to Edwards Air Force Base, Ca., in honor of the 50th Anniversary of Flight of the F-16.  The event, titled “Falcon Rejoin” assembled designers, engineers, heroic pilots, the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, a variety of makes and models of the F-16, and other history makers within the F-16 community.

While the jet was stunning, it was still a mission-ready asset having flown over 135 training sorties for over 215-hours in the last eight months.