William Tell

In June 1954, the USAF’s World Wide Weapons Meet now known as “William Tell” began as  a separate air-to-air rocketry competition to the Third Annual USAF Fighter gunnery and Weapons Meet that was held at Las Vegas AFB (later renamed as Nellis AFB). This Interceptor Phase of the Las Vegas based competition would be held at Yuma, AZ. The Air Defense Command and Air Training Command were the sole competitors of the first meet . In 1956, the meet was unofficially given the name of  “William Tell” and had expanded to include nine teams representing seven major air commands. This third meet was the last held in Arizona. 

Two years later, Tyndall AFB, Fla., became the home for the USAF Worldwide Air-to-Air Weapons Meet. The radio controlled Q-2A drone target and the PARAMI, an electronic scoring system, made their first appearances during this meet and for the first time, competitors were divided into three categories, one for each aircraft participating. Twelve teams competed in the 1958 meet and among them was an Air National Guard unit competing for the first time. 

For the 1961 William Tell, three jets specifically designed for protecting North America appeared on the flight line; the F-102 Delta Dagger, the F-106 Delta Dart and the F-101 Voodoo. William Tell 1965 was the largest in history with 16 teams and four categories. Canada became the first foreign country to participate in William Tell and entered with the CF-101 Voodoo’s. After a five-year period, imposed by the Vietnam War, William Tell resumed at Tyndall AFB with nine teams competing.  

The 1972 meet was the year of the first “Top Gun” award, and the introduction of the subsonic BQM-34A Firebee target drone into the competition. The 1974 composition saw the Air National Guard teams take first place in three major categories and in 1976, the ANG continued its winning streak in two of the three. The F-4 Phantom II made its first appearance in the meet in 1976, The F-4 unit was the first Team sent by the Tactical Air Command .  

With the reorganization of air defense forces in 1979, TAC assumed sponsorship for William Tell. The first TAC-sponsored meet in 1980 included 10 teams from active duty F-4 and F-106 units, ANG F-4, F-106 and F-101 units, and a Canadian Forces CF-101 unit. 

A 33rd Tactical Fighter Wing weapons crew loads an AIM-9 Sidewinder missile onto the wing pylon of an F-15 Eagle aircraft during the air-to-air weapons meet William Tell ’84.

In 1982,  Tactical Air Command officially changed the name of the meet to the USAF Air-to-Air Weapons Meet. That meet also marked the return of the Pacific Air Forces and the USAF in Europe to the competition, and the first appearance of the F-15 “Eagle”.

William Tell 1984 saw the introduction of the supersonic QF-100 full-scale drone as a William Tell target and was the first meet in which only full-scale drones were used as missile targets. In 1986, the CF-18 entered in the competition for the first time with the Canadian team, finishing second overall behind a TAC F-15 Team.

A group of F-15 Eagle aircraft taxi to the parking area upon their arrival at the base to compete in the air-to-air weapons meet WILLIAM TELL ’84 .


Three members of the 32nd Tactical Fighter Squadron rush to load an AIM-9 Sidewinder missile onto an F-15 Eagle aircraft during weapons loading competition for the air-to-air weapons meet WILLIAM TELL ’84.


The sunset highlights F-15 Eagle aircraft tail fins on the flight line during the air-to-air weapons meet WILLIAM TELL ’86.( A1C Nancy Smelser)

During the 1988 meet a total of twelve teams from TAC, ANG, PACAF, USAFE, Alaskan Air Command and Canada participated in on of the most competitive meets ever 

The 1990 competition was cancelled due to Operation Desert Shield/Storm and resumed in 1992, held by the newly formed Air Combat Command. Eight teams competed and the 18th Wing from Kadena AB, Japan, walked away with the top team award for the second time.  

Hosted by Air combat Command and the US Air Force Air Warfare Center, William Tell 94 gave the USAF’s best fighter units the opportunity to compete in all aspects of air-to-air operations.

Wearing a head band which declares “victory at all cost” in Japanese, First Lieutenant (1LT) Mark E. Conner, F-15 Eagle pilot, 18th Tactical Fighter Wing, is welcomed to the base for the air-to-air weapons meet Exercise WILLIAM TELL ’86.

Beginning in 1996, Teams that attended the William tell Weapons Meet  were to be assembled differently than the had been in the past. In previous Meets teams competed as units (Squadrons or Wings) , in the 1996 each major Command, the Air Force Reserve, the Air National Guard, and a combined Canadian team would compete against each other for the right to be known as the best in the Air.

The future of the William Tell Air-to-Air Weapons Meet is an uncertain one. Will the composition go the way of the Air Defence Command and the F-106, stay tuned.   (McChord AFB source)

William Tell 2004

11/9/2004 – TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. (AFPN) — The U.S. Air Forces in Europe team jumped off to an early lead after officials kicked off William Tell 2004 here Nov. 8. The start marked the 50th anniversary of the Air Force air-to-air weapons meet.

TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. — Capt. Chris Jarrett salutes during the opening ceremony of William Tell 2004. This is the 50th anniversary of the competition that tests an aircrew’s ability to perform under combat conditions. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Ben Bloker)

This year’s meet has put to rest the longest gap in its history after an eight year hiatus because of high operations tempo and participation in recent conflicts.

A F-15C Eagle  takes off during Exercise William Tell 2004 at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., on Nov. 11, 2004.(U.S. Air Force Photo by Tech. Sgt. Demetrius Lester)

“Today, through the William Tell competition, we are testing the skill, strength and courage of the jet-age successors of the competition’s namesake,” said Lt. Col. Al Wimmer, 83rd Fighter Weapons Squadron operations director.

“The purpose of William Tell is to have aircrews perform under simulated combat conditions in order to test the proficiency of the air-to-air combat (professionals) and give the world a first-hand view of (the Air Force’s) superiority, readiness and capability,” he said.

Five major commands are represented by units flying the F-15 Eagle. Teams include:

— 71st Fighter Squadron from Langley Air Force Base, Va., representing Air Combat Command.

— 19th FS from Elmendorf AFB, Alaska, representing Pacific Air Forces.

— 95th FS from here representing Air Education and Training Command.

— 493rd FS from Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, representing USAFE.

— Oregon Air National Guard’s 123rd FS at Portland representing the ANG.

USAFE posted a score of 1,268 out 1,500 flying Profile II in the meet. Scores are posted daily after they are verified.

The mission for Tyndall’s 53rd Weapons Evaluation Group Airmen for the next two weeks is focused all on William Tell.

Oregon Air National Guard F-15 Eagle fighter aircraft pilots, are briefed during exercise William Tell 2004 at Tyndall AFB, Nov.12, 2004.(U.S. Air Force Photo by Staff Sgt. Dennis J. Henry Jr.)

“It’s taken a dedicated effort from the (group’s) Airmen over the past year to pull this together — all without skipping a beat doing our normal mission,” said Col. Derek Hess, 53rd WEG commander.

The group’s normal mission includes conducting the combat air forces’ weapons system evaluation program — Combat Hammer for air-to-ground weapons, and Combat Archer for air-to-air weapons.

“Any past competitor would recognize what we’re doing at this year’s William Tell,” Colonel Hess said. “We have used William Tell’s rich history as a guide and have built William Tell ’04 to represent our 21st Century Air Force.

“Some things will never change. The competition is a test of our combat capabilities, and this year’s profiles reflect today’s air superiority mission,” he said. (Senior Airman Christian Michael and Tech. Sgt. Tonya Keebaugh contributed to this report)

PACAF’s team uses advantage during William Tell
by 1st Lt. Amy Hansen
3rd Wing Public Affairs

11/9/2004 – TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. (AFPN) — A pilot checks his radar and looks over his shoulder to see an enemy fighter at his 3 o’clock position. The infrared seeker on the air-to-air missile rotates to the right as the pilot moves his head. He lines up the enemy fighter with the crosshairs on his helmet-visor display and shoots. The missile launches towards its target, and the pilot continues flying on course for the next intercept.

Staff Sgt. Eric Bradley, 3rd Fighter Wing, conducts a post flight inspection on an F-15 Eagle fighter aircraft during exercise William Tell 2004 at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., on Nov.15, 2004.
(U.S. Air Force Photo by Airman 1st Class Daniel DeCook)

A few years ago, this might have been a scene in a sci-fi movie or a scenario for a video game. At William Tell 2004, the Pacific Air Forces F-15 Eagle team is flying and competing with three futuristic technologies that enable pilots to detect enemies from further away, target nearby enemy aircraft with a glance and shoot missiles in a wider range of directions.

The systems are the APG-63/V2 electronically-scanned radar array, the Joint Helmet-Mounted Cueing System and the AIM-9X Sidewinder missile. More than a year ago, Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska, became the first operational unit to use these systems, said Maj. Chris Stratton, captain of the PACAF William Tell team from Elmendorf’s 19th Fighter Squadron.

During the William Tell competition, pilots from five major command teams compete against each other in five flying scenarios, including a live missile shoot, a live gun shoot, an alert mission, a flight of two aircraft against four and a flight of four aircraft against an unknown number of aggressors.

“In the two (versus) four and the four (versus unknown), our advanced technologies will give us a slight advantage,” Major Stratton said. “The V2 radar is a quantum leap better than its predecessor, the V1 [version]. It increases the range at which we can detect enemies. Unlike old-fashioned radars that move back and forth, the V2 [version] scans electronically.”

The other teams will be competing with the older version of the radar.

The cueing system is a special helmet modification that takes the standard heads-up display one step further. Instead of projecting radar and weapons system information above the console in the cockpit for easy viewing, system displays mission-critical information on a pilot’s helmet visor.

“This means that you don’t have to change the direction of the aircraft to acquire a target, you just have to move your skull,” Major Stratton said. “It used to be ‘lose sight, lose fight,’ but now everything is displayed on the helmet, and it tells you where to look to see the bandit. You don’t have to put your (aircraft’s) nose on the target to acquire it.”

The AIM-9X works with the cueing system. More advanced than the typical Sidewinder, the infrared seeker on the AIM-9X swivels in the direction the pilot looks while wearing the cueing helmet.

During William Tell, only the PACAF and U.S. Air Forces Europe teams will be using the AIM-9X, which has several other advantages over the older AIM-9.

“It has a greater off-bore sight capability than the AIM-9. Off-bore sight capability is the width of the angle in front of the aircraft’s nose in which the missile can be used effectively,” Major Stratton said. “It also has a greater range than the AIM-9.”

Loaded up with all the new gadgets, people might think the PACAF team has a clear advantage in William Tell, but the team is facing a disadvantage — live gun training.

Pilots at Elmendorf do not practice live gun shoots because of logistical constraints, while all the other teams do.

For the gun shoot, which is one of the five flying profiles in the competition, a plane tows an 8-foot-by-40-foot rectangular cloth banner with a red circle painted on it. In groups of two, the pilots take turns shooting at the banner. Each group gets two minutes to take as many shots as possible. After the event, the holes in each team’s banner are counted and points are awarded accordingly, said Lt. Col. Randy Chow, William Tell deputy chief assigned to the 53rd Weapons Evaluation Group here.

“I think our advanced technology will give us a slight advantage [in] a couple of the profiles, but all the other teams have a decided advantage on the gun shoot because they’ve practiced more than us,” Major Stratton said.

Despite Elmendorf’s high-tech jets, the trophies are still very much up for grabs.

“I think it’s going to be anybody’s ball game,” Major Stratton said. “We’ve got a technological advantage, Tyndall has a home-field advantage, the Air National Guard has very experienced pilots, and the Air Education and Training team is made up of all instructor pilots.

“This is going to be like a NASCAR race — one guy has a Ford, another guy has a Chevy, a third has a Dodge. They all have different capabilities, but it makes for a great competition,” he said.

U.S. Air Force 71st Fighter Squadron pilot Capt. Johnathan Gration, dons his gear during exercise William Tell 2004 at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., on Nov. 16, 2004. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Tech. Sgt. Ben Bloker) (Released)
U.S. Air Force 71st Fighter Squadron pilot Capt. Eric Armentrout, climbs the stairs into an F-15C Eagle fighter aircraft during exercise William Tell 2004 at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., on Nov. 16, 2004. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Tech. Sgt. Ben Bloker) (Released)
U.S. Air Force 71st Fighter Squadron pilot Capt. Eric Armentrout, prepares an F-15C Eagle fighter aircraft for take off during exercise William Tell 2004 at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., on Nov. 16, 2004. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Tech. Sgt. Ben Bloker) (Released)
U.S. Air Force, Air Education and Training Command, 95th Fighter Squadron pilot Maj. Harlie “Leash” Bodine, blocks out Air Combat Command, 71st Fighter Squadron pilot Capt. Ben Davis, during a crud billiard tournament during exercise William Tell 2004 at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., on Nov. 12, 2004. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Tech. Sgt. Ben Bloker) (Released)

Willam Tell photos

Ground crewmen begin to shut down F-15 Eagle aircraft of the 1st Tactical Fighter Wing upon their arrival at the base to compete in the air-to-air weapons meet WILLIAM TELL ’84.
Munitions crewmen prepare a missile for loading onto an F-15 Eagle aircraft during the air-to-air combat training Exercise William Tell ’82.
A 1st Tactical Fighter Wing F-15 Eagle stands by in the weapons loading area during the air-to-air weapons meet WILLIAM TELL ’86.
18th Tactical Fighter Wing F-15 Eagle aircraft participating in the air-to-air weapons meet WILLIAM TELL ’86 bear the emblem of a samurai warrior on their tail fins.
Maintenance personnel and flight crews from the 18th Tactical Fighter Wing preflight some of the squadron’s F-15 Eagle aircraft during Exercise Giant Warrior ’89. The aircraft third from front is an F-15D Eagle, the others are F-15C Eagles.
An air-to-air right side view of six F-15 Eagle aircraft flying in formation during Exercise William Tell.