Thursday, August 7, 2008

410th FLTS 'Baja Scorpions' closes historic chapter

by Senior Airman Julius Delos Reyes
95th Air Base Wing Public Affairs

8/5/2008 - U.S. AIR FORCE PLANT 42, Calif. -- After more than 27 years and 8,000 flight test hours, the 410th Flight Test Squadron has finally closed its historic chapter during an inactivation ceremony Aug. 1 at the U.S. Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale, Calif.

The 410th FLTS was responsible for performing flight test missions for the F-117 Nighthawk -- the world's first operational aircraft designed to exploit low-observable stealth technology.

"I wish we would have stayed and opened longer, but it is time to go," said Lt. Col. Dwayne Opella, who also relinquished the 410th FLTS command during the inactivation ceremony. "I am saddened with the shutdown of this unit and the retirement of F-117. But I couldn't think of being more honored than be listed as the last commander of the 410th Flight Test Squadron."

During the ceremony, Colonel Opella gave his thanks to Team Edwards, Lockheed Martin, the Combined Test Force's former and current members, both civilians and contractors.

"I also want to thank my wife and kids for their support," he said. "And finally, I want to thank the men and women of the (410th FLTS). I will always remember all of you, and I am proud of knowing each and every one of you."

The Air Force is retiring the F-117 fleet as part of a recapitalization and modernization program. The aircraft is being replaced by the F-22 Raptor.

"The history of the F-117 is pretty famous," said Colonel Opella. "The entire combat mission and everything it has done in support of our nation's defense are documented in books and articles."

The 410th FLTS traces back its history in 1980 when Air Force and Lockheed-Martin personnel were tapped to form a "black world" Joint Test Force, unofficially named Baja Scorpions. The JTF received its first shipment containing a disassembled prototype YF-117A in January 1981. In 1983, the Joint Test Force was reorganized as a Combined Test Force.

In April 1992, the unit moved to the U.S. Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale, Calif. The following year, the unit's operational control was transferred to the 412th Test Wing at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., and officially became the 410th Flight Test Squadron.
Some of the 410th FLTS's accomplishments include providing support for contingency operations during the invasion of Panama in 1989, Operation Desert Storm, Operation Allied Force and Operation Iraqi Freedom.

"We say goodbye to an amazing group and leader," said Col. Mike Panarisi, 412th Operations Group commander, during the ceremony. "I was privileged to join the team here a couple of weeks ago for their goodbye soiree. You could just see the pride in everyone's eyes. It is a true testimony of what Colonel Opella had accomplished with these folks. I couldn't be happier for the team."

Other guest speakers include Cheryl O'Leary, Lockheed Martin executive vice president and site general manager, and George Zeilsdorff, Lockheed Martin vice president for U-2 and F-117 programs.

"It has been a true partnership with the Air Force and Lockheed Martin," Ms. O'Leary said. "This is a sad day, but we need to move forward to the next generation. (The 411th FLTS) have set the standard for excellence for others to follow."

Mr. Zeilsdorff said the 410th FLTS is a history of "enormous accomplishments with influence on a huge number of next generation systems."

"It is a history of self-sacrifice for the good of the Air Force and the nation," he said. "I salute each and every member of this terrific organization, both past and present."

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