The Fort Worth area is home to several interesting airfields. The city is the home of Lockheed Martin’s production facility for the F-16 and F-35, and there are also numerous other airfields with unusual operators and visitors. Paul Dunn has visited the area twice so far this year, and been fortunate enough to catch a wide variety of different aircraft, some of which are ‘local’, plus a few nice visitors.
Back in February, I started the day at a very chilly Alliance Airport in the northern suburb of Fort Worth. This airfield is very popular with military and corporate traffic, and sees plenty of movements from FedEx aircraft supporting the company’s distribution facility at the airport. However, the vast majority of these occur at night. Despite that, it’s always an airfield worth checking in at, and certainly didn’t disappoint on this occasion.
Military visitors included a pair of F/A-18As from VMFA-112 ‘Cowboys’, the Marine Corps reserve unit based at nearby NAS Fort Worth Joint Reserve Base, formerly known as Carswell AFB. Cowboys jets are pretty much a permanent fixture at Alliance and I’ve seen at least two night-stopping on most occasions I’ve visited.
Also on the ramp, having night-stopped, was an exceptionally clean A-10! With no unit markings, it looked very much like the aircraft had just come from depot-level maintenance and was on delivery to a new unit. Apparently this aircraft was later seen with the Arkansas ANG, but was carrying a travel pod bearing the badge of the 23rd Wing, suggesting it was on its way to 23rd FG at Moody AFB, Georgia.
The A-10 and the pair of Hornets departed at pretty much the same time, with great conditions and nice winter light.
With Alliance having a roughly north/south runway orientation, by lunchtime the light was pretty much down the runway, so I decided to move to NAS Fort Worth, in the hope of catching some movements from the Lockheed Martin factory. In addition, there are plenty of other units based at the airfield, including reserve units from the USAF, US Army, US Navy, USMC and the Texas ANG. Movements were steady throughout the afternoon and many of the local units flew several training sorties.
Most active were the F-16s of the 301st FW, a unit assigned to AFRC and based at Fort Worth. A total of eight aircraft flew sorties, in two groups of four.
The US Navy element at the airfield consists of VR-59 ‘The Lone Star Express’, which operates three Boeing C-40A Clippers. These replaced the C-9Bs which the squadron operated for many years.
The US Army Reserve has a small number of C-12s based at the airfield, including a number of C-12Rs, such as this one, operated by the 339th MI BN (AE).
Probably the most interesting user of the airfield, though, is Lockheed Martin. I was really hoping to catch a factory fresh F-16 or F-35 on a pre-delivery test flight, and I wasn’t disappointed when an F-35A taxied out along with the company’s F-16D chase aircraft.
Both departed and were gone for some time. In the end, the F-16 returned alone, and for a while I was concerned that the F-35 was actually being delivered and wouldn’t return!
Fortunately, as the sun was getting lower and the light better, a bright light appeared on the approach, which turned out to be the F-35. I was particularly pleased as the aircraft was one of the first to be allocated to the USAF Weapons School, and carried appropriate titles and a WA tailcode. It has since been delivered to Nellis AFB.
On the way back to my hotel, I decided to have a quick look in at Alliance, as it is sometimes possible to shoot aircraft on the ramp under the lights at night. I found a large aircraft in the circuit, which turned out to be a P-3, devoid of any unit or identification markings. It would appear to be one of the aircraft operated by NAWC-23 at Dallas Love Field, a particularly shadowy unit which deploys Orions on special missions.
Next day, I made a return to Alliance Airport for a couple of hours before my flight home. It was fairly quiet, although I did catch a C-40 (same one as the day before) doing circuits.
A quick check of the Flightaware website showed a NASA T-38N was due to arrive from Ellington Field, so I stuck around for that – the NASA T-38s are very smart and always impeccably turned out.
From there it was on to NAS Fort Worth again, which turned out to be quite busy. A selection of T-38s were flying circuits and in between that an F-35C painted in VFA-101 colours arrived. This was the first time I’d seen the Navy version of the F-35, and it’s certainly a nice looking machine.
Amongst the other movements, the highlight was a KC-130J from VMGR-234, another USMC Reserve unit based at the airfield, which recently transitioned from the KC-130T.
Final aircraft I saw before having to move on was an unmarked F-16C, which is currently operated by Lockheed Martin on development work.
My next visit to the area came about a month later. This time around I spent a Saturday morning at Alliance Airport, which proved to be fairly busy. As usual, there were the ubiquitous Cowboys Hornets, this time including the squadron’s colour jet, which I had never seen before.
Also a pleasant sight was this smart KC-135R from the 155th ARW of the Nebraska ANG.
Trainers made up most of the visitors though, with eight aircraft from the 80th TRW at Sheppard AFB being present, including four T-38s and four T-6s.
Further T-6s came from the 47th FTW at Laughlin AFB.
One very interesting movement came in the form of this Cessna Citation sporting a large fairing ahead of the right wing.
Some research indicates that the aircraft is owned by the US Department of Justice; presumably it is operated in a surveillance role by a law enforcement agency.
After hanging around to watch the Cowboys depart, by which time the light was rather poor, I was packing up to leave when this C-40 turned up. Interestingly it apparently hailed from VR-58 ‘Sunseekers’ at NAS Jacksonville rather than the more local VR-59, although it did not sport any markings to suggest belonging to either unit.
Another couple of profitable trips to a destination I’ve always enjoyed, and sadly this might be my last visit for a while. Not a bad way to end though!