The Iowa Air National Guard’s 132nd Fighter Wing flew manned air crafts out of Des Moines for more than 70 years.
That all ended last year after a new Department of Defense bill cut all of the unit’s 21 F-16’s.
There were concerns that hundreds would be out of a job, but instead, most of the airmen are picking up some new skills as the air national guard transitions to unmanned missions.
More than 600 airmen with the 132nd Fighter Wing of the Iowa Air National Guard dedicated their entire careers to one mission.
That mission was maintaining and flying F-16’s.
“I’ve been an air maintenance guy for 27 years. That’s everything I’ve done is work on airplanes or jet engines,” said CMSgt. Richard Lawrence.
“I worked on the components that come off the F-16. I maintain them in the shop,” said SSgt. Erik Johansen.
With one final flight in September of last year, that mission became obsolete.
The Iowa Air National Guard is transitioning from manned flights to unmanned missions with the remotely piloted MQ-9 Reaper.
“It allows us to extend warfare and positions assets without putting pilots in harm’s way,” said Col. Kevin Heer.
Instead of leaving the airmen of the 132nd Fighter Wing out of work, the Air Guard is finding new uses for their skills.
Over the next two years, Sgt. Johansen will put away the tool kit and receive cyber defense training.
“The future is definitely bright for this base,” Johansen told Channel 13 News.
While CMSgt. Richard Lawrence will move from F-16 maintenance to overseeing the day to day operations of flying the Remotely Piloted Aircrafts out of Des Moines.
“I’m excited I get to do a new job towards the end of my career,” said Lawrence.
While excited for the new opportunities, the transition is bitter sweet.
These men say there is nothing in the air guard quite like working with the F-16.
“I absolutely will miss F-16’s, hearing them fly, and working on them,” said Johansen.
To clarify, the Air Guard says the planes it flies are “Remotely Piloted Aircraft” and not drones. This is because the planes will be controlled by a pilot on the ground throughout their entire mission.
The planes will be flown from Des Moines by January of 2017.