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Guard unit soars to new heights



By Staff Sgt. Elaine Aviles 39th Wing Public Affairs

INCIRLIK AIR BASE, Turkey (USAFENS) -- Maj. Don Ross gets shot at on a daily basis, which is nothing unusual for an F-16 fighter pilot deployed in support of Operation Northern Watch here. But during this deployment, he feels a bit more confident about his ability to fire back.

Ross, from the 124th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, a coalition of Iowa, Ohio and Oklahoma National Guardsmen, is trying out a newly installed F-16 engine in support of ONW for the first time.

"I felt the difference the minute I took off," he said. "The new engine is a big improvement."

The 124th EFS recently upgraded its F-16 engines from the Pratt and Whitney Block 42 F-100-PW-220 to the 229. While this engine isn't new to the Air Force, it was something different for the Guardsmen.

First produced in 1991, the Pratt and Whitney 229 is considered one of the most powerful F-16 engines in use today, according to Rick Cowan, a field representative from Pratt and Whitney. Cowan deployed with the unit to help evaluate the engine's performance during ONW missions.

While the 220 carried the Guard unit successfully through three ONW and two Operation Southern Watch deployments, the Guardsmen knew they could get better performance from their F-16s.

"Response time can mean the difference between life and death," Ross said. "We needed a more powerful engine than the 220."

The 220 wasn't "combat coded," meaning the motor didn't have enough thrust for an F-16's contingent of weapons, said Cowan.

"F-16s have to be able to carry a full range of weapons while maintaining high energy levels," he said. "They need a powerful engine to do that. The 229 has better thrust-to-weight ratio. There's more energy and less drag so the aircraft can reach higher speeds."

This improved performance makes a big difference to pilots and maintainers.

"Before we could carry two 500-pound bombs," Ross said. "Anything more was doable, but we'd have to jettison just about everything to achieve a good response time. Now, we can carry more bombs. A couple of 2,000-pounders aren't a problem because of the additional thrust."

The extra munitions come in handy for the 124th's two-fold mission. While the overall ONW mission is to enforce the no-fly zone over Northern Iraq, an F-16's specific role is suppression of enemy air defenses, or SEAD, which is the suppression of ground threats or enemy integrated air defense systems.

"What we do is basically provide a safe passage for other aircraft to do their jobs; we keep the path clear," Ross said.

The improved performance also helps with the other half of the unit's mission, which is combat search and rescue.

"If we have to grab someone out of Northern Iraq, the more bombs we can carry, the better," Ross said.

Another benefit of the engine is virtually maintenance free.

"We were always performing maintenance on the 220," said Tech. Sgt. John Pochop, a jet engine mechanic with the 124th EFS. "With this engine, we don't have to ship out as many parts for repair. The good thing is we still troubleshoot in the same way, but we don't run into as many problems."

The Guardsmen head home Dec. 13, but as part of an air and space expeditionary force cycle, it won't be too long before they'll be coming back.

"And when we do, it will be with an aircraft that's been tested in battle," Ross said.

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