FAIRBANKS (AP) -- Several F-16s will leave Fort Wainwright Friday to fly combat search and rescue missions in the Middle East.
The mission to support the no-fly zone in Iraq is the first such role for the F-16s, said Col. Tom Hyde, 354th Operations Group commander. Normally A-10s fly the mission.
''We're plowing new territory,'' Hyde said Tuesday.
The F-16s -- probably about seven -- will deploy at about midnight Friday and will head for Incirlik Air Base in Turkey. The jets will leave at night in order to land in unfamiliar territory during the day.
The fighter planes will be part of forces supporting Operation Northern Watch no-fly zone mission in Iraq. The no-fly zone was imposed by the United Nations after the end of Desert Storm in 1991.
Two cargo planes loaded with more than 100 support airmen and spare parts were leaving the base Thursday en route to Turkey.
The F-16s are stepping in for the A-10s as part of Eielson Air Force Base's turn in the 15-month deployment rotation. The A-10s have been deployed twice to Kuwait in the last 24 months while the F-16s stayed at Eielson.
The F-16s are based at Eielson but have been operating out of Fort Wainwright during a runway extension project at Eielson this summer.
To adapt to the new role, Hyde said pilots went through two months of training both in the classroom and in the air. During part of the training, A-10 pilots sat in the back seat, looking over the F-16 pilot's shoulder.
In a combat search and rescue role, the fighter planes will locate, identify and then help with the recovery of any allied person stranded in Iraq territory, Hyde said.
''They'll be there about 100 days and hopefully they'll be absolutely bored stiff,'' he said. ''In this particular instance, boredom is good.''
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