The 162nd Wing graduated its first Bulgaria air force F-16 pilot, Capt. Aleksandar Velinov. Although the observance was unassuming and informal, the implications are enormous. Bulgaria contracted in early-2020 to purchase the F-16 aircraft with anticipated delivery beginning in 2023. The F-16 is set to replace Bulgaria’s aging Mig-29 fighters. Capt. Velinov was selected as one of four pilots to undertake a specialized English immersion course before going through the full U.S. Air Force training pipeline for the F-16. Today marked the pinnacle of his training period.
“We’re proud of Capt. Velinov, and the entire Bulgaria air force. Their training here in Arizona strengthens both the European Union and the NATO alliance. We make partnerships right here in Tucson that have a global impact. Because we can support and develop international partners like Bulgaria, our own homeland is safer,” said Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Butler, 162nd Wing Commander.
“When I return to Bulgaria the F-16 will be a brand new aircraft to the country, so it’s up to the first pilots and maintainers who go through training in the U.S. to build the foundation and set a high standard of work. With Bulgaria planning to transition to the F-16 as quickly as possible, my training in Tucson is vital,” said Capt. Velinov.
The US State Department has approved a possible foreign military sale (FMS) of F-16 aircraft and associated equipment to Bulgaria. The move comes after the Government of Bulgaria placed a request to purchase four F-16 C Block 70 aircraft and four F-16 D Block 70 aircraft. Bulgaria also requested 19 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM) AIM-120C-7/C-8 or equivalent missiles; 48 LAU-129A launchers; 28 GBU-39/B Small Diameter Bombs (SDBs); 11 M61A1 Vulcan Cannons and four AN/AAQ-33 Sniper Advanced Targeting Pods (ATPs).