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Last F-16s depart Madison as Wisconsin National Guard prepares for F-35 arrival

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Wisconsin Air National Guard F-16 (copy)

An F-16 Fighting Falcon takes off from Volk Field on May 6, 2019. The last of the 115th Fighter Wing's F-16 jets departed from Truax Field in Madison Wednesday as the unit prepares to fly a squadron of F-35 jets.

After three decades of service, the last of the Wisconsin Air National Guard’s F-16 fighter jets took off from Truax Field Wednesday for the last time as the 115th Fighter Wing prepares for its next mission.

Pilots from other units around the country will fly F-16s out of Madison in support of the Guard’s homeland defense mission while the unit gets ready to fly F-35 fighter jets, said Capt. Leslie Westmont.

Truax Field is undergoing roughly $120 million worth of construction to accommodate the 20 new jets, which are scheduled to begin arriving in early 2023.

The F-16 Fighting Falcons arrived at Truax Field in 1992, replacing the A-10 Thunderbolt, and were the eighth plane type flown by the unit since it was formed in 1948.

Six Wisconsin National Guard pilots flew the last of the unit’s 25 planes to bases in Arizona, Colorado, Maryland, New Jersey and Texas, where they will be flown by other units.

Vice Wing Commander Col. Charles Merkel said the jets, built in 1987, have another five to 10 years of service remaining.

“Each one of these airplanes has taken us over (two) oceans many times and into harm’s way and back safely and reliably,” Merkel said “They have sat alert and they motivated many a Packers and Badgers team with flyovers on fall days like today.”

Despite community division and concerns about noise and pollution, the Air Force selected the 115th in 2020 as one of the nation’s first National Guard units to fly the F-35, which at a cost of more than $1.7 trillion is the Pentagon’s most expensive weapons program.

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