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Col. Christopher Clark, 144th FW/CC Fini Flight

Col. Christopher Clark, 144th Fighter Wing commander, flew his fini flight in the F-15 Eagle with the 144th fighter Wing at the Fresno Air National Guard Base, California, May 23, 2024. Col Clark chose to fly in the Heritage Jet with its one-of-a-kind, red-white-and-blue paint scheme. Congratulations, Sir! (photos by Maj. Jason Sanchez)

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End of an Era: 173rd FW trains the last F-15 Eagle Instructor Pilots

By Master Sgt. Jefferson Thompson

The journey begins at Undergraduate Pilot Training or maybe long, long before, but for this account an Air Force pilot starts the road to the cockpit at Laughlin Air Force Base in Texas, in the T-6 Texan, a 1,200 horsepower propeller-driven trainer. From there, they have to find their way in a T-38 supersonic jet trainer, if they make the cut for fighter aircraft.

A fledgling fighter-pilot-in-the-making then heads to Introduction to Fighter Fundamentals at Randolph Air Force Base in San Antonio—a quick primer, smoothing the transition to warfighting aircraft.

Some of these students track to the F-15 and travel to Kingsley Field to test themselves against the 173rd Fighter Wing B-Course and learn to fly the Eagle, the venerated fighter aircraft boasting an undefeated combat record and bearing the moniker WGASF—world’s greatest air superiority fighter.

None of this is easy, but once a student steps into the ranks of Eagle drivers it’s time to relax, having arrived at their goal … right?

“No. Never,” says Capt. Andrew Marshall, an F-15 pilot with the 550th Fighter Squadron, with a laugh.

Marshall has navigated this path over the last seven years, since graduating from the University of Colorado ROTC program, and is now making his way into the ranks of F-15C instructor pilots at Kingsley Field in Klamath Falls, Oregon.

Capt. Andrew Marshall, an F-15C pilot with the 550th Fighter Squadron, suits up for another sortie on his way to becoming a rated instructor pilot in the Eagle, at Kingsley Field in Klamath Falls, Oregon, Jan. 18, 2024. He and one other pilot are the last two selected in the U.S. Air Force to receive this upgrade training, signaling the end of an era as future pilots at the 173rd Fighter Wing will convert to the F-35 airframe. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Jefferson Thompson)

“I’m hoping to get it done within six months, that’s my personal goal,” he said. “But there’s a lot of other factors—TDYs, weather—all those different things can get in the way of keeping the momentum going. It definitely is a period where you’re just working, working, working…you’re studying all the time.”

He says there are 11 thresholds to cross to become a rated instructor pilot beginning with close-range dogfighting and progressing to a very broad scenario involving many aircraft performing defensive counter-air and everything in between, and a couple of “top-off” events following that.

“I’ve made it through the first two events so far, and it took me seven flights to do it,” adding that the syllabus somewhat mirrors that of his first years at Kadena Air Base, getting his flight lead ratings cumulating with a mission commander upgrade where he controlled 20 fighter aircraft, two tankers and an AWACS.

“It was intense, probably the most stressful experience of my Air Force career,” he said.

He’ll do it again and the difference this time will be one of fine-tuning.

“Now you’re doing it at a higher level,” he explains. “It’s much more refinement in how you go through the instructor upgrade; now you have to be able to not only understand and do it yourself but you have to convey that knowledge and execute it in a way that shows credibility as an instructor.”

apt. Andrew Marshall, an F-15C pilot with the 550th Fighter Squadron, steps to his jet along with two other pilots on a chilly January morning, Jan. 18, 2024, at Kingsley Field in Klamath Falls, Oregon. He is working his way through the process to become a rated instructor pilot in the Eagle, and will be one of the two last to accomplish this as the Air Force transitions away from the venerable fighter to the F-35. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Jefferson Thompson)

It’s a new process for him, but many have gone before him over nearly four decades of service from the Eagle. He and one other pilot are likely the last.

The Air Force at-large has divested itself of nearly all F-15 Eagle aircraft, most recently deactivating squadrons at Kadena Air Base and transferring those aircraft to the Air National Guard, rendering the future need for instructor pilots minimal. But as with any program there are always the final students.

Marshall says this career trajectory suits him very well and he feels it positions him well for a likely airframe conversion to the F-35 Lightning II, which is slated to arrive at Kingsley Field in 2026 .

He sums up his career choice saying, “It’s one of the best jobs in the world and you have some of the best camaraderie with your pilots and your fellow servicemembers.”

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Flashback: McDonnell Douglas F-15A Streak Eagle

For two weeks beginning on Jan. 16, 1975, three Air Force pilots and a modified McDonnell Douglas Aircraft Division (McAir) F-15A-6-MC (72-119) made an assault on the world class time-to-climb for aircraft powered by jet engines.
The three pilots, Maj. Roger Smith, Maj. W. R. ‘Mac’ Macfarlane, and Maj. Dave Peterson were all members of the F-15 Joint Test Force at Edwards. Pete Garrison, a McAir pilot, was instrumental in the development of the flight profiles used for the records.

Project Streak Eagle had three major objectives:

  1. To enhance Air Force esprit de corps and morale, and to foster the attractiveness of an Air Force career in support of recruiting objectives;
  2. To help establish the credibility of Air Force general purpose forces as an integral element of the United States’ overall military posture;
  3. To provide data on the F-15’s capabilities at the extremes of altitudes and performance under controlled test conditions.

For more photos info check out https://skytrailer.nl/streak-eagle/

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Eagles have landed:  New F-15EXs arrive at Eglin

By Samuel King Jr.

The Air Force’s two newest fighters, F-15EX Eagle IIs, known as EX3 and EX4, touched down at Eglin Dec. 20, 2023 just minutes from each other. 

The new arrivals bring the Air Force’s total F-15EXs to four, all located at Eglin. The two aircraft belong to the 96th Test Wing (EX3) and 53rd Wing (EX4), who also own the initial two fighters.

“The F-15EX has met every challenge we’ve thrown at it to date and the platform is on the cusp of being ready for the warfighter,” said Lt. Col. Christopher Wee, Operational Flight Program Combined Test Force commander. “The delivery of the new aircraft paves the way for not only the delivery of combat coded aircraft to the U.S. Air Force, but also the continued development of this incredible addition to the USAF inventory.”

The new Eagles bring features and capabilities to be tested that the original two jets didn’t have. The cockpit pressure monitor and warning system is a new addition to EX3 and EX4, as well as an ultra-high frequency antenna for satellite communications. The new Eagles also feature a forward fuselage redesigned specifically for the U.S. Air Force.

The F-15EX test platforms at Eglin will accelerate development of capabilities both for the platform itself, and other combat aircraft.

“Our integrated test approach, which combines developmental and operational test, brings the future faster to the warfighter,” said Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Geraghty, 96th Test Wing commander. “This ensures the U.S. Air Force continues to provide deterrence and readiness for the high-end fight.”

The F-15EX program at Eglin ends this year with two new aircraft, but the combined test wings kept the two available jets in the air for a very busy 2023. In May, those two aircraft flew to Alaska and participated in and supported Northern Edge 2023. In June, the F-15EX executed advanced weapons integration missions to ensure the aircraft and various munitions flew and communicated with each other properly.

After the integration successes, the F-15EXs flew to Hill AFB, Utah, for Combat Hammer, where the aircraft successfully employed advanced air-to-ground weapons for the first time. These and the efforts over the last two years earned the combined test and evaluation team a glowing report from the Operational Test and Evaluation director.

 The director’s report stated the F-15EX is operationally effective, suitable, and survivable against threats likely to be encountered while performing its missions in threat environments.  This report allows the program to move into a new testing phase. 

“I am tremendously proud of the team and their efforts to foster the F-15EX program,” said Wee. “The F-15EX is the most capable Eagle on the planet, and we are just getting started.” 

The test wings are scheduled to receive two more F-15EX aircraft in the future

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4th Fighter Wing selects team to participate in William Tell competition

By Airman 1st Class Rebecca Sirimarco-Lang

SEYMOUR JOHNSON AIR FORCE BASE, N.C. —
After a 19-year hiatus, the 2023 William Tell Air-to-Air Competition is scheduled to take place September 11-15, 2023, at the Air Dominance Center in Savannah, Georgia.

The historic fighter aircraft competition is named after legendary Swiss archer, William Tell. It began as a bi-annual competition in 1954 that encouraged the most challenging air-to-air scenarios. The competition was placed on hold due to military operations and contingency requirements in 1996.

In addition to the 4th FW, other teams from across Air Combat Command, Pacific Air Forces and the Air National Guard will compete in this air superiority-focused event.

“We want to send the 4th FW’s best aircrew,” said Capt. Andrew Munoz, 335th Fighter Squadron evaluator pilot and 4th FW William Tell team member. “There’s a lot of different factors that I took into consideration when choosing my team.”

The 4th FW team members were chosen based on their experience and performance.

The 2023 4th Fighter Wing’s William Tell team members are:

Team Captain: Maj. Daniel “SLASH” Hutto

Instructor Qual: Pilot: Capt. Andrew “PAÑIC” Munoz Weapons System Operator: Capt. Richey “BREAUX” Menard

Wingman Qual: Pilot: Capt. Sean “WOLF” Sutedjo WSO: Capt. Noel “SP” Zamot

Any Qual: Pilot: Maj. Malcolm “REHEAT” Richards WSO: Capt. George “KING” Welton

Any Flight Lead: Pilot: Capt. Devin “CUJO” Beaulieu WSO: Capt. Eric “DIVE” Carter

Intelligence:

Senior Airman Elliot “DRAG” Atwell

Senior Airman Hannah “SHADE” Garcia

Maintenance:

Master Sgt. Christopher Oles

Staff Sgt. Jashaunn Jasper

Senior Airman Aaron Woods

Senior Airman Grace Forgey