Monday, August 31, 2020

Final Flight of the 116th Fighter Wing

 By Maj. William Carraway

Historian, Georgia Army National Guard


More than 300 Georgia National Guard Airmen, family and friends attended the ceremony marking the final flight of the F-15 Eagles Aug. 30, 1995.
Georgia National Guard Archives.

Twenty-two years of Georgia Air National Guard history came to an end August 30, 1995 with the ceremonial final flight of four F-15 Eagles of the 116th Fighter Wing. The flight heralded the end of the 116th Fighter Wing and the beginning of its transition to a bomb wing.

“It’s tough, particularly for people who have been fighter pilots all their lives,” said Col. Bruce MacLane, commander of the 116th.[1] MacLane, a 30-year veteran of the Air Force and Ga. Air National Guard, led the flight which took off from Dobbins Air Reserve Base just after 2:00 pm. Joining him on the mission were Lt. Col. Bob Doehling, Lt. Col Rich Zatorski and Maj. Tom Jordan.

Georgia Air National Guard Maj. Tom Jordan, Lt. Col. Bob Doehling and Lt. Col. Rich Zatorski before the symbolic last flight of the 116th Fighter Wing’s F-15
aircraft August 30, 1995. Atlanta Constitution photo by John Spink.

“It leaves a big empty feeling to see the Eagles go,” said Jordan reflecting on the flight. Jordan, like many pilots of the 116th had flown the F-15 his entire career. The twin-tailed fighter interceptor was assigned to the 116th in 1986 and was the fourth fighter jet in the wing’s history. MacLane, who joined the wing in 1973 was one of two pilots to have flown the F-100 Super Sabre, F-4 Phantom, F 105 Wild Weasel and the F-15[2]. From 1973 to 1995, the 116th deployed four times as a fighter unit, participated in two William Tell fighter competitions and earned an unprecedented nine Air Force Outstanding Unit Awards. The final award was conferred in part for the tactics the 116th developed for employment of the Advanced Medium Range Air-To-Air Missile that were implemented across the Air Force by F-15 pilots.[3]

The Georgia Air National Guard’s 116th Tactical Fighter Wing receives the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award during a ceremony at Dobbins
Air Force Base May 21, 1977, its second since the 116th FW converted from a transport mission in 1973. Georgia National Guard Archives
The final flight represented more than just change of aircraft. With the transfer of the F-15s to the Florida Air National Guard, the 116th would relocate from Dobbins Air Reserve Base, its home of 40 years, to Robins AFB, convert to the 116th Bomb Wing and begin flying the B-1 Lancer. The change of mission and station was part of a larger force structure realignment by which the U.S. Air Force began transferring traditional active duty missions to the Guard and Reserve. Rumors had swirled for months before the May 1993 announcement heralded the conversion and move. In late 1993, the wing’s allotment of fighters was reduced from 24 to 18.[4] By 1996, the personnel strength of the 116th had dropped from 1,250 to 1,100. Of 32 pilots assigned, only ten elected to relocate closer to Robins. For pilots such as Capt. Roger Griffith who had more than 800 hours in the F-15, the prospect of moving to had to be balanced against a full-time aviation career based out of Atlanta’s Hartsfield Airport.[5]

A B-1 Lancer of the 116th Bomb Wing commanded by Col. Bob Doehling departs Dobbins Air Reserve Base in September 2001. Georgia National Guard Archives.

Chief Master Sgt. Don Barber, Command Chief of the Ga. Air National Guard, writing in April 1995, recognized the challenges facing the Ga. ANG and praised Georgia’s Citizen Airmen for their esprit de corps in the face of unprecedented force structure changes.

“While we all must support and meet the missions assigned to the Air National Guard, I can assure you that commanders are giving top priority to meeting the needs of our people as we plan for the future,” wrote Barber.[6]

The 116th Bomb Wing would fly the B-1 for six years. On October 1, 2002, the 116th and active duty 93rd Air Control Wing were reorganized as the 116th Air Control Wing, the first such combined unit in the history of the Air Force.[7] As the largest wing Air Force with 2,700 assigned personnel, the 116th ACW assumed the unique Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System mission.

[1] Baldowski, Ken. “Fighter Era Ends For 116th, F-15 Eagles Fly Last Flight” Georgia Guardsman Magazine Spring 1996, 6.

[2] “116th History Long, Colorful”. Georgia Guardsman Magazine, September 1993, 6.

[3] “116th Receives Outstanding Air Force Unit Award.” Georgia Guardsman Magazine, Spring 1996, 3.

[4] “What About the 116th?” Georgia Guardsman Magazine, September 1993, 4.

[5] “Reaction to the Plan.” Georgia Guardsman Magazine, Sept. 1993, 6.

[6] “Keeping up with Opportunity.” Georgia Guardsman Magazine, April 1995, 2.

[7] Martz, Ron. “New Air Guard Mission” The Atlanta Journal Constitution. June 23, 2002, A5.

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