By Tech. Sgt. Alexander Frank
PORTLAND, Ore. —
Portland, Ore.– On March 22nd, 2023, Lt. Col. Jonathan Friedman, a pilot with the 123rd Fighter Squadron, took off from Portland Air National Guard Base (PANGB) flying an F-15C as he’s done dozens of times before. But this flight was a special one, as it would mark the 2,000th hour Friedman has spent flying the F-15C. While it’s not entirely uncommon for pilots to reach this milestone, this is likely the last time it will be reached in this airframe by an Oregon Guardsman.
With the arrival of the F-15 EX at PANGB by the Spring of 2024, the lifecycle of the F-15C is coming to an end. Because of this impending transition, Friedman will likely be one of the last Oregon Guardsmen to reach 2,000 flight hours in the aircraft, and potentially, one of the last in the Air Force. It’s an accomplishment he didn’t envision when he first joined the 142nd Wing in 2017, and a milestone he didn’t realize he’d reached until after landing.
“I had forgotten about it altogether until after the flight when our Supervisor of Flying congratulated me,” said Friedman. “I’m incredibly grateful for the years I’ve been able to fly with the Redhawks and for the chance to reach this milestone.”
2,000 hours is an extraordinary amount of time in any capacity. For context; that’s over 83 days, 50 workweeks, or more than 1,052 viewings of the 1986 classic Top Gun. For Friedman, even after 2,000 hours in the air, he’s still learning new things about the aircraft.
“Flying the F-15C is a humbling endeavor; just when I think I’ve got a good handle on things, I find a new way to screw up,” said Friedman. “I’m still working to fly the elusive perfect sortie.”
The first F-15s arrived in Portland in 1989, and by that time the aircraft was already nearly 20 years old. Since then, 142nd pilots and maintainers have worked to keep the aging aircraft in the air; a task that has proven to be more and more difficult as time goes on.
“Flying has grown exceptionally challenging in recent years given the new and unique ways the jets seem to break,” said Friedman. “I’m continually impressed with the F-15C maintenance community and our 142nd Maintainers in particular, as they’ve been able to keep these jets flying safely for all these years.”
When the F-15 EX arrives at PANGB next year, the 142nd Wing will house the first operational EX airframes in the entire United States Air Force. The EX, or Eagle II, retains the basic design of the F-15C but incorporates next-generation technology that brings the aging Eagle into the 21st Century. After spending years learning how to pull everything he could out of a nearly 50-year-old airframe, Friedman is ready to see what the next generation of air power can do.
“The EX will be a multi-role fighter capable of solving some of the most complicated problems that face the Air Force,” said Friedman, “It will have better computers, displays, sensors, flight controls, and more thrust; it’s an amazing opportunity to get to be part of Ops-1 for the newest fighter in the Air Force inventory.”
After over 30 years of flying the F-15C at the 142nd Wing, Friedman is the last pilot to do what generations before him have accomplished. It’s a legacy that’s more than the accomplishments of one person, or the capabilities of a single aircraft; it’s a continuation of a legacy dedicated to serving the community.
“It’s a little sad to see such a venerable platform reaching the end of its service life,” said Friedman. “The F-15C community has built quite the legacy and it’s been a great privilege to get to be even a small part of that; thankfully there’s an exciting opportunity to start building the Eagle II legacy in the future.”