June 25, 2019

Senators want Springfield’s 183rd to get flying mission again

Source: State Journal-Register


Springfield’s 183rd Wing, a unit of the Illinois Air National Guard, would receive a flying mission once again under an amendment proposed by Illinois’ two U.S. senators.

The amendment, made to the National Defense Authorization Act, which the U.S. Senate is currently debating, would allow the U.S. secretary of the Air Force to transfer A-10, F-16, F-15E/X or F-35 aircraft to the local Guard unit, which is housed at Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport.

The 183rd Wing flew F-16s until the mid-2000s. It now serves as a repair facility for F-16 engines and as an Air Operations Group.

“Springfield’s 183rd Wing has a long history of flying missions to protect our nation dating back to 1948,” Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth said in a statement. “I’m proud to file this important amendment with Senator Durbin that would make sure the 183rd Wing flies once again, and I’ll keep working alongside the Illinois National Guard on this issue.”

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, a Springfield Democrat, said he wants to make sure the wing remains a priority for the Department of Defense.

“We must continue to support the future of the 183rd Wing by finding ways for the Air National Guard to benefit both from the installation’s potential and its proven record of success,” Durbin said in the statement.

The 183rd Wing still has the infrastructure from when F-16s used to be flown there, so it could handle another flying mission, Lt. Col. Brad Leighton, an Illinois National Guard spokesman, said.

However, there would need to be some repairs done on the doors of the hangars, where the aircrafts are stored, and one of the hangars was converted to an engine shop, Leighton said.

“There would have to be some work done,” he said, though that work would be less than establishing a completely new infrastructure.

The 183rd began operating in Springfield on Sept. 30, 1948, when it flew P-51 Mustang fighters. The unit has flown F-16s since 1989, but lost that role after a review by the Base Realignment and Closure commission in 2005.

The unit had 17 jets, which started leaving Springfield a few at a time in 2008 to bases elsewhere, including Texas, Vermont and Indiana.

“When we did lose the F-16s, a lot of folks were upset. I’m not just talking (about) people in the National Guard. A lot of people in the community really enjoyed having them there,” Leighton said. “The flying mission certainly solidifies the unit and brings more traffic to the airport.”

Duckworth and Brig. Gen. Richard Neely, the state’s adjutant general, earlier this month discussed returning the 183rd Wing to flying status.

“Really, we’ve talked about getting a flying mission back since we lost the lifeline,” Leighton said. “It has been years.”

There would be some ancillary costs to bringing the aircrafts back, though Leighton said he didn’t yet know what they would be.

Leighton said having the flying mission helps “put Springfield on the map.”

“This area has got a wonderful legacy of support for military service and has been there for a very long time,” he said.“It would make sense to return the wing. ... We’ve got a flying mission in Springfield that’s really been long established.”

Having a flying mission in Springfield could help bring money into the local economy and helps keep National Guard forces in the area, he added.

“It brings additional capabilities,” Leighton said. “It would bring more resources to Springfield that could be used in either the (Illinois National Guard’s) state mission or the federal mission.”

By:  Cassie Buchman