Monday, September 13, 2010

122nd commander retires final F-16 - Air Guard unit will convert to Warthogs

Stefanie Scarlett
The Journal Gazette
Published: September 12, 2010 3:00 a.m.

Col. Jeffrey Soldner's last flight was a fitting end to his military career.

Soldner, unit commander at the 122nd Fighter Wing who plans to retire in January after a 38-year career, took the unit's last F-16 fighter jet for its final flight Saturday afternoon.

Afterward, he was doused by his grandsons in the traditional ritual of a fire-engine hose-down and uncorked a bottle of champagne.

The 122nd, like other units around the country, is converting from the F-16 Fighting Falcon to the A-10 Warthog. The conversion will take about three years, but the Warthogs will take to the skies locally before the end of the year.

To celebrate the transition, the Indiana Air National Guard unit conducted a brief hangar ceremony for families, which fell on a regular training weekend.

During the past 19 years, the 122nd Fighter Wing's F-16s have flown more than 67,000 hours and more than 47,000 sorties.

The F-16s also were deployed as part of Operation Noble Eagle in 2001 and 2002, and the Operation Enduring Freedom campaigns in 2004, 2006 and 2007.

"It was everyone on this base that made us so successful with this plane," Soldner told the crowd, adding that it was a privilege to take the last one for its – and his – last flight.

He also made a point of adding a new patch to his flight uniform.

"We now go forward with the A-10," he said.

The F-16 that Soldner flew Saturday – he also was the first of the unit to land one in 1991 – will follow the others of its kind and be sent this week to the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group, called the "boneyard."

Although the F-16 originally was designed for air-to-air combat – it can reach speeds up to 1,500 mph – the slower (and quieter) A-10 was created for air-to-ground operations.

It flies low, staying close to ground troops and can take direct hits from armor-piercing and high-explosive projectiles.

The A-10 is also much larger in size, wing span and payload. It can carry a 16,000-pound payload, such as a variety of bombs, missiles, rockets, flares and the seven-barrel Gatling gun.

Soldner, who has never flown an A-10, acknowledged that retirement would be a change.

His wife recently bought the couple a boat and they plan to spend more time in Florida.

But leaving is always difficult.

"It is a little bit tough," Soldner said.

"I'm not the same young man I used to be," he added with a grin.

"This is a young man's sport."

Col. Michael Stohler shows off in his A-10 Warthog on Saturday at the 122nd Fighter Wing. (Journal Gazette photo)


Please note: Some more related pictures will be uploaded soon.

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