HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah — Hill AFB officially ended an era Friday at a Viper Out ceremony celebrating 38-years of the F-16 at the base.
Current and former military members, pilots, maintainers, civic leaders and friends packed Hangar 37 to bid farewell to the plane dubbed the Viper, because of its appearance at take-off.
The Viper will no longer routinely fill the northern Utah skies as Hill’s jets are assigned to other locations, primarily Holloman AFB, New Mexico, making room for the F-35A and keeping Hill at the cutting edge of flying technology.
The ceremony was a way to recognize the accomplishments of the Airmen and the aircraft that have been such a visible representation of Hill’s vital national defense mission.
The 388th Tactical Fighter Wing at Hill was the first unit in the Air Force to receive a combat operational F-16 in January 1979, followed by Hill’s 419 TFW in 1983.
Hill’s F-16s have supported every military operation since landing here, including Operation Desert Storm, Operations Northern Watch and Southern Watch, Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom and Operations Freedom Sentinel and Inherent Resolve.
In declaring Sept. 8, 2017, F-16 Fighting Falcon Appreciation Day, Utah’s Governor Gary Herbert praised the Airmen who have flown and maintained the F-16 for nearly four decades as being among the best in the world.
Col. Lee Kloos, 388th Fighter Wing commander, said a little part of him will leave when the last Viper departs the base, lightheartedly referencing the F-16 as the love of his life, second only to his wife.
Kloos acknowledged the Utah community that has been supportive in embracing the F-16 for so many years.
The 388th FW Facebook page was flooded with comments from people who served at Hill AFB throughout the years.
“My whole life these jets flew over us making me feel safe…Sad day for sure. Many people I know have had a hand in keeping these birds in the air. I thank you all.”
“So many great memories growing up around these majestic birds…I spent a lot of time watching these guys doing their thing.”
“Loved seeing and hearing those Vipers flying around. (It) will always hold a special place in our hearts!”
Col. David Smith, 419 Fighter Wing commander, said the accomplishments of the Hill-based F-16s have been numerous and he is sad to see them go, but he is also encouraged for what the future has in store.
“We are leaving behind a proud heritage with the F-16, but we are bringing on a great, new mission with the F-35 that will hopefully be here for at least 38 more years,” Smith said.
Hill AFB will be home to three operational ready fighter squadrons with 78 F-35 Lightning IIs by the close of 2019.
While operational F-16s are departing the base, Hill AFB’s Ogden Air Logistics Complex will continue to perform depot modifications and maintenance on the F-16 so people will still spot the Viper in flight over northern Utah from time-to-time.