Oregon’s Viper Years

  • Published
  • By Lt Col Terrence G. Popravak, Jr., USAF (Retired) 142nd Wing History Office (Volunteer)
  • 142nd Wing/Historian's Office

The 50th anniversary of the very first flight of the General Dynamics F-16 on January 20, 1974 was recently commemorated.  That first time in the air was an unplanned event - the first formal flight followed shortly afterward on February 2, 1974.  Either way, it’s been 50 years now since the first Viper took to the air.


Although the Oregon Air National Guard (ORANG) is well-known for more than three decades of F-15 Eagle operations in the 142nd Wing at Portland and more than two decades in the 173rd Fighter Wing at Kingsley Field in Klamath Falls.  But truth be told, there is a decade-long F-16 era within the ORANG’s history which is shared by both wings and worth remembering on this F-16 50th first flight anniversary.


As the F-16 entered service, in 1980 the USAF formally named the F-16 as the “Fighting Falcon,” to differentiate it from the French-made Falcon 20 jet which the US Coast Guard bought then (the HU-25 Guardian, flown between 1982 and 2014).  But it is rarely called that – instead, “Viper” is the common name used by those in the aviation community.  It was a name perhaps inspired by the Colonial Viper space fighters in the then-popular science fiction television series Battlestar Galactica, as well as by the serpentine lines of the F-16’s forward fuselage. 


More than 4,500 F-16’s have been built so far, by General Dynamics at first, and since 1993 by Lockheed Martin.  The F-16 is operated by 25 air forces around the world – some 800 remain in USAF service and new F-16C/D Block 70s are currently in production at a new production facility.


Oregon’s connection to the F-16 began in 1986, a time when the 142nd Fighter-Interceptor Group (142nd FIG) operated the McDonnell Douglas F-4C Phantom II, in its two fighter squadrons, the 123rd Fighter-Interceptor Squadron (123rd FIS) at Portland and the geographically separate 114th Tactical Fighter training Squadron (114th TFTS) at Kingsley.  The Air Force was looking at the next aircraft to succeed the venerable F-4 in the Air National Guard. 


Transition from the F-4


The December, 1986 issue of the 142nd FIG’s Air Scoop newsletter carried the headline “AIR GUARD TO CONVERT TO F-16’S.”  The secretary of the Air Force announced a proposal to convert ANG F-4C units to the F-16A.  The F-16A was being replaced on active duty by the new variant of the Viper, the F-16C.  And so, the word came down to the 142nd FIG to prepare to convert to the F-16A.


This would not be Oregon’s first experience with a General Dynamics product, as the 142nd had previously operated the Convair (later acquired by General Dynamics) F-102 Delta Dagger interceptor in the late 1960s.


The 114th TFTS at Kingsley Field was to receive the F-16 first, “…in about 1989,” with Portland’s 123rd FIS slated to convert the next year.  Oregon’s aircraft were to be modified for the air defense mission at the F-16 depot (Ogden Air Logistics Center at Hill AFB, UT), though ANG units with a tactical fighter mission would receive the regular version of the F-16A.


By March, 1987, the Air Scoop carried an update titled “F-16 role reassessed,” which reflected some concern for adapting the F-16A to the air defense role.  A report in the 26 Jan 1987 issue of Aviation Week and Space Technology magazine questioned the planned air defense modifications and the ability of the F-16A’s APG-66 radar to perform adequately against a cruise missile threat.


The 142nd FIG Commander, Lt Col Jerry Sorenson, expressed concern about this and responded to the Aviation Week article.  He said that he favored some live testing of an air defense-modified F-16 to see if it could accomplish the air defense mission against a bomber threat and cruise missiles.  At the time, regular “generic” F-16As had begun to serve in Montana and Florida, and an Oregon conversion to the generic F-16A could not be ruled out.


By January, 1988 the 142nd’s F-16 conversion was set for 1989.  Major Larry Kemp and MSgt Gene Jaramillo were the project coordinators who gathered inputs from around the group for an Air Force/National Guard site activation team which visited Portland between January 26-29, 1988.  At the time, Lt Col D.E.B. Ward, new 142nd FIG Commander, expected the conversion to take place in June or July, 1989.  “We’ll probably see two or three aircraft in March or April for maintenance training,” he said.


But a scant month later, the plan changed.  The February, 1988 issue of the Air Scoop headlined “F-15 Eagles slated for Oregon ANG in late 1989.”  Congressional budget cuts caused force structure cuts and realignments, which coincided with an ongoing effort to reduce the number of active duty air defense units as the air defense mission was increasingly shouldered by the ANG. 


As a result, the “Green Dragons” of the McChord AFB, WA-based 318th FIS, an active duty F-15A Eagle-equipped squadron, were now to receive the F-16A and transfer their F-15A’s to Portland in 1989.  But this change did not affect the Air Force’s plans for Kingsley to field a variant of the F-16A Block 15, a specially-modified for the air defense mission which became known as the F-16 Air Defense Fighter (ADF).


The F-16 Air Defense Fighter


The Kingsley conversion was still programmed to take place in order to train pilots for the fighter squadrons of the ANG which were to be equipped with the F-16 ADF.  The squadrons performing a Continental U.S. air defense mission with the ADF included the 111th FIS (Houston, TX), 134th FIS (Burlington, VT), 136th FIS (Niagara Falls, NY), 159th FIS (Jacksonville, FL), 178th FIS (Fargo, ND), 179th FIS (Duluth, MN), 186th FIS (Great Falls, MT) and 194th FIS (Fresno, CA).


The F-16A Block 15 was the first major improvement in the F-16’s ongoing development and the most numerous Viper variant with 662 built, and an additional number of earlier Vipers brought up to Block 15 standard.  As such it was chosen as the baseline aircraft to receive ADF modifications.


The F-16 ADF improvements included a modified APG-66 radar (AN/APG-66(V)1) radar, to give it “look-down/shoot-down” and enhanced small target detection capabilities.  The APG-66(V)1 also had a Continuous Wave (CW) illumination capability to enable it enable it to guide AIM-7 Sparrow medium range radar-guided air-to-air missiles (AAM).  The AIM-7F/M (carried on stations 3 and 7) was the first radar-guided missile for the ADF which later (from 1992) carried the AIM-120 AMRAAM (carried on stations 1, 2, 3, 7, 8 and 9). 


The new radar-guided missiles complemented the AIM-9 Sidewinder infrared-guided AAMs (carried on stations 1, 2, 3, 7, 8 and 9) and the internal M-61A1 Vulcan 20mm cannon with 511 round capacity which were part of the normal armament of the Block 15 Viper.


There were three prominent visual recognition features to quickly identify an ADF F-16 from a regular Viper.  First was the addition of the “bird slicers,” the four antennas of the APX-109 sensor (the Mk. XII Advanced Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) system) mounted just forward of the cockpit canopy.


A second ADF visual recognition feature was the night identification spotlight mounted on the left side of the forward fuselage.  It was a 150,000-candlepower light useful for nighttime intercept visual identification.  The spotlight was canted 70 degrees to the left of forward and 10 degrees up.


The addition of an AN/ARC-200 High Frequency single sideband radio with the Have Quick II Secure Speech module to improve long-range communications created the third prominent visual recognition feature, a long, thin bulge at the base of the vertical fin.  This was caused by the placement of the ARC-200 radio to the leading edge of the vertical tail which displaced the flight control accumulators relocated to an enlarged space at the base of the fin, hence the bulge.  As the B-model ADF jets did not have the HF radio their modification did not include the tail fin bulges.


The ADF’s were also equipped with the capability to carry 600-gallon drop tanks under the wings for an extended range option, vice the usual 370-gallon drops tanks.


Between 1989 and 1992, 246 A-models and 25 B-models of the Block 15 type were taken in hand for conversion to ADF standard at the Ogden Air Logistics Center at Hill AFB, Utah.  The first F-16A ADF was completed in February, 1989.  Nine months later the Berlin Wall came down, the herald of significant change in the international situation for which a robust air defense capability was required.


The F-16 Arrives in Oregon


The Oregon ANG’s first generic F-16, yet to be modified to ADF configuration, arrived at Kingsley Field in August, 1988 to initiate the conversion process.  In November, 1988 the schoolhouse’s last F-4 aircrew class graduated as the transition from the F-4C to the F-16 ADF proceeded.


On March 1, 1989 the first production F-16 ADF arrived at Kingsley Field, F-16B 82-1041, flown in from Hill AFB, UT by the 114th TFTS Commander, Lt Col Steven V. Harper.  Early tail numbers in Kingsley service as conversion took place included F-16A 81-0691, 81-0786 and 81-0801 and F-16B 82-1041. 


On June 1, 1989, the 114th TFTS Commander Lt Col Harper landed at Kingsley in an F-16B with a distinguished visitor in the backseat, Brig Gen Chuck Yeager.  The first man to break the sound barrier was greeted by military personnel and the Chamber of Commerce, and spoke to reporters at the field before heading off for a speaking engagement at the Oregon Institute of Technology in Klamath Falls.


About a week later, on June 9, a formal dedication for the completion of the transition from the end of the F-4C Phantom II-era to the beginning of the F-16 era at Kingsley was held, attended by civilian and military leaders, state and local government representatives and General Dynamics representatives.  Additional Vipers had arrived by then, and by mid-1989 the unit had reached its assigned primary aircraft authorization level of 18 F-16s, a mix of single-seat A-models and two-seat B-models.


The first F-16 ADF student pilot class began on July 13, 1989 with eight student pilots from the 194th FIS (Fresno, CA).  The 114th conducted training in accordance with the F-16 Initial Qualification Training Syllabus as authorized by Air Education and Training Command with the primary program being the six-month long basic course (B-course) for new pilots fresh from undergraduate pilot training. 


The B-course included a ground training phase in classrooms and a simulator where the students learned F-16 basic flying and emergency procedures.  They received instruction on the aircraft’s avionics and tactical employment as a weapons system.


A transition training phase was next, where the students first flew the F-16, at first with an instructor in the rear cockpit and then solo to master takeoffs, landings and some instrument flying.


Then came the air-to-air phase of training, with offensive and defensive basic fighter maneuvers and tactical intercepts.


As in the F-4C era, there were other training courses at the 114th TFTS Kingsley schoolhouse which were of much shorter duration for experienced pilots and instructors in subjects such as air defense employment and air superiority tactics. 


An innovative two-week training course for flight surgeons, “Top Knife,” was begun in January, 1990 with ANG flight surgeons undergoing medical and flight academics.  In addition, they were to have a minimum of five flights to help them better understand and work with the unique stresses of pilots operating high-performance combat aircraft, the medical issues which may arise and how to treat them more effectively.  Having an ample number of B-model two-seaters helped to achieve the courses desired learning objectives.  The flight surgeon training course was not limited to flight surgeons in the F-16 ADF community and thus had an ANG-wide benefit.


In the first half of 1992 the 114th TFTS grew to have 14 of the F-16A and 8 F-16B on hand, and maintained this strength-level through 1993 and 1994. 


On March 15, 1992 the USAF implemented a widespread reorganization and the 114th TFTS was redesignated as the 114th Fighter Squadron (114th FS).  The F-16 ADF training mission continued unaffected.


The only Viper loss in Oregon service occurred on November 29, 1993.  The fatal accident involved Vermont ANG student pilot 1st Lieutenant Stephen L. C. Taylor, 24 years old, in a wilderness area some 35 miles east of Tulelake, California.  Lieutenant Taylor was flying F-16A 81-0770.  He was engaged in Beyond Visual Range intercept training with an instructor pilot flying in another F-16 when his jet suddenly disappeared from radar and radio contact.  The most likely cause was believed to be spatial disorientation.


Despite the loss, the ADF training mission continued.  With the dissolution of the Soviet Union on December 26, 1991, the Cold War ended.  The effect of that momentous event took some time to materialize, but beginning in 1994, just two years after the last ADF conversions, the ANG’s F-16 ADFs began to be replaced in service by other aircraft. 


Transition from the F-16 ADF


By the end of 1995, about half of the ADF force had already converted to other airframes, mostly the newer F-16C, made available by post-Cold War defense cuts of active duty forces.  This also decreased the numbers of ADF pilots needed from Kingsley.


Recalled Colonel (ret.) Thomas Schiess, a former 173rd Fighter Wing commander, “…it became obvious to the guys running the base at the time (that) 'our future in the F-16 is limited and we are hunting for new missions.’”  That hunt eventually yielded a conversion of the 114th FS from the F-16 ADF pilot training mission to the F-15A pilot training mission.


On June 27, 1996, the 114th FS was resubordinated from the 142nd Fighter Wing to the newly-activated 173rd Fighter Wing at Kingsley Field.  The Viper pilot training mission continued as the wing sought another mission.  The schoolhouse continued to train F-16 ADF pilots until it transitioned to the F-15A Eagle in 1998.


By 2005, only North Dakota’s 178th Fighter Squadron still flew the ADF, and the last of these was retired to the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Center (AMARC) “boneyard” at Davis-Monthan AFB, AZ in early 2007.


Ultimate Fate of Oregon’s Vipers


As for the fate of the Vipers of Oregon after the Kingsley conversion to the F-15, some F-16’s went directly to the boneyard for long-term storage and/or spare parts harvesting, with others going to different ANG units for continued service. 


Some went to the boneyard for a while but were then refurbished for foreign service with the Italian, Royal Jordanian and/or Pakistani air forces.  A few are preserved as outdoor static displays or in a museum. 


And lastly, quite literally, some Oregon Vipers were converted to full-scale aerial target drones (QF-16).  It’s possible an Oregon F-15C may have occasion on a Weapons System Evaluation Program (WSEP) deployment to Tyndall AFB, FL to engage a former Oregon F-16, if it hasn’t happened already. 


A list of known F-16 ADF tail numbers which served at Kingsley Field at one time or another between 1988 and 1998 is shown below, including the block variant letter, period of service in the 114th, any special markings and notes as to the ultimate fate of the aircraft.  If there are any corrections or additions, please let us know!


F-16A ADF (15)


F-16A-15A ADF 80-0581, Aug 1990 to May 1998; refurbished and leased to Italy in Peace Caesar as MM 7237 – lost off coast of Trapani (western Sicily), Italy on 26 Jan 2004.


F-16A-15B ADF 80-0608, unknown date received, to AMARC on 25 Jul 1996; preserved as a static display at Tyndall AFB, FL by 20 Oct 2019.


F-16A-15D ADF 81-0691, Sep 1988 to AMARC on 31 Jul 1995. Special marking as “City of Sweet Home.”


F-16A-15F ADF 81-0759, Jul 1995 to Jun 1998.  Preserved as a static display at Medford Airport, Oregon.


F-16A-15G ADF 81-0770, Apr 1989 to 29 Nov 1993, when lost in an accident during a training sortie.


F-16A-15G ADF 81-0771, Oct 1989 to AMARC on 14 Jul 1995. Refurbished and leased to Italy in Peace Caesar as MM 7250. To AMARC 24 Jun 2010.  Converted to QF-16A as QF-090, assigned to 82nd Aerial Target Squadron (82nd ATRS) at Tyndall AFB, FL.


F-16A-15G ADF 81-0786, Jun 1989 to Hill AFB circa May 1999 to serve as Aircraft Battle Damage Repair (ABDR) trainer.


F-16A-15H ADF 81-0801, Oct 1989 to AMARC 13 Nov 1997.  Refurbished and leased to Italy in Peace Caesar as MM 7251 on 25 Jun 2003. In Aug 2015 the aircraft was transferred for display purposes to the Italian Air Force Museum (Museo Storico dell'Aeronautica Militare Italiana) in Bracciano, Italy, just northwest of Rome.


F-16A-15H ADF 81-0809, Oct 1989 to AMARC 13 May 1994.


F-16A-15H ADF 81-0811, Apr 1989 – 26 May 1995 2004-2005 refurbished and leased to Italy in Peace Caesar as MM 7253.  Returned to AMARC Jun 2012.  May 2016 converted to QF-16A as QF-043, assigned to 82nd ATRS.


F-16A-15J ADF 82-0910, Apr 89 to static display 6 May 1997. Now preserved on base at Kingsley Field with markings for “173 FW.”


F-16A-15J ADF 82-0913, Oct 1989 to AMARC 6 Dec 1996. Refurbished and leased to Italy in Peace Caesar as MM 7254.  Back to AMARC on 11 May 2012.  Circa Dec 2020 converted to QF-16A as QF-095, assigned to 82nd ATRS.


F-16A-15K ADF 82-0942, Oct 1989 to AMARC 31 Jul 1995.  Refurbished and leased to Italy in Peace Caesar as MM 7255.  Back to AMARC on 29 Jul 2010.  On 24 May 2017 sent to Cecil Field, FL for conversion to QF-16A as QF-040, assigned to 82nd ATRS.


F-16A-15L ADF 82-0955, Apr 1989 to Feb 1998.  Special markings as “City of Swisley” (sic).  To AMARC on 28 Jul 2000.


F-16A-15P ADF 82-1014, Apr 1989 to May 1998; special markings as “City of Klamath Falls,” and 114th squadron flagship.  Refurbished and leased to Italy in Peace Caesar as MM 7243, from Jun 2003 to Jun 2010.  Returned to AMARC.  Circa Oct 2020 converted to QF-16A as QF-094, assigned to 82nd ATRS.



F-16B ADF (9)


F-16B-15A ADF 80-0637, Oct 1989 to Feb 1998; to AMARC 10 Dec 2004


F-16B-15C ADF 81-0812 Oct 1989 – Feb 1998; to AMARC 26 Dec 2006


F-16B-15J ADF 82-1027 Feb 1990 to Nov 1997, to AMARC 22 May 2007


F-16B-15K ADF 82-1030, Oct 1989 to Nov 1993; to AMARC 1 Sep 1994. Refurbished and transferred to Jordan under Peace Falcon I on 25 Jan 1998; further transferred to Pakistan on 14 May 2014.


F-16B-15K ADF 82-1031, Oct 1989 to Aug 1996; to AMARC on 9 Jan 2007.


F-16B-15K ADF 82-1034, Oct 1989 to Dec 1997; to AMARC 10 Apr 2007


F-16B-15M ADF 82-1039, Apr 1989 to Feb 1998; special marking as “City of La Pine.”  To AMARC 11 Jan 2007.


F-16B-15M ADF 82-1041, Feb 1989 to Jun 1990; refurbished and transferred under Peace Falcon II to Royal Jordanian Air Force on 13 Feb 2003.


F-16B-15P ADF 82-1046, Oct 1989 to Mar 1992; to AMARC on 8 Feb 2007.  Scrapped 26 May 2021.