I was privileged to be one of a handful of media people on hand September 23 when Lt. Col. John Patterson walked by us, wordlessly, on his way out to the last 183d Fighter Wing F-16 at the far end of the ramp. It was parked about as far away from us as you could park an F-16 and still having it sitting on 183d concrete. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. There may have been security and safety concerns. From our vantage point, the airplane was in shadow — the sun shone on the other side of it. This positioning meant we could not see the tail number of the airplane which had been stripped of all markings that identified it as a 183d airplane. That was not necessarily a bad thing. Of what interest are tail numbers to Springfield media?
For an aviation historian, the tail number has greater meaning. There is only one airplane in the US Air Force (USAF) which has the tail number reported by John Reynolds in the SJ-R Wednesday. It’s as important as the name “Spirit of St. Louis” on the Ryan monoplane Lindbergh flew to Paris. There were two airplanes built to “Spirit of St. Louis” specifications, so the name means a lot, the way “tail number 292″ means a lot when talking about F-16s. The tail number painted on USAF aircraft consists of the the last two numbers of the fiscal year in which the airplane’s construction was funded, small numbers (about 2 inches tall) that appear before the last three numbers (about six inches tall) of the USAF serial number assigned. Military personnel refer to particular airplanes by the last three because they are easy to see, and they’re usually the only bird on the ramp with that number. In theory, an F-16 funded in 1985, whose serial ends in 103, let’s say, could share the ramp with an F-16 funded in 1986, whose serial ends in 103, but it’s a rare event.
To an aviation historian, tail numbers matter, and if they don’t matter to Springfield media, that’s okay because this is my city and the 183d have earned my admiration and immutable respect. Splitting hairs over tail numbers is for aviation historians. They are the ones who should know that “292″ is not the tail number painted on the F-16 that departed Springfield September 23.
Captain Sonja Gurski, Colonel Michael Meyer and the other 183d people were nicer than textbook courteous to the media retinue. No question was unanswered. Col. Meyer stayed late talking at length with WMAY’s Mark Toma and posed for a few pictures after that. After it was all over, I presented Col. Meyer with an autographed copy of my book Springfield Aviation and expressed my hope that he would tell others about it. I thanked him for his service to the cause of freedom and for his courtesy during the media interlude.
This picture of F-16C (87-296) has been solarized to increase the contrast. No other alteration was made. Other pictures of the event will be posted at http://www.aeroknow.com in the week ahead.
Thanks to the men and women of the 183d Fighter Wing for hosting media September 23, and allowing us to witness this historic event.
Fly well . . . . . and proper.