Durability, Reliability and Solidity: for over 30 years the F-15 Eagle has been flown by the 142nd Fighter Wing, defending the Pacific Northwest homeland from the Canadian border to Northern California. This no-fail mission encompasses not only the reliability of the F-15 fighter jets but also the pledge of the Airmen who support this critical duty.
In recognizing this three-decade accomplishment, the unit paused to acknowledge those who have sustained this enduring commitment during the Regularly Scheduled Drill (RSD) weekend on June 1, 2019, here at the Portland Air National Guard (PANG) base. The 30-year celebration allowed members from the past to interact with Airmen presently serving during a day of activities around the base.
The first Eagles arrived at the PANG base on May 24, 1989, replacing the F-4 Phantom II the unit had been flying prior to the conversion. Most of the early planes came from the 318th Fighter Interceptor Group at McChord Air Force Base, Washington, which was being disbanded. For the next 20 years, the 142nd flew F-15 A and B models, including the last A model in the U.S. Air Force inventory (retired Sept. 16, 2009) before phasing in upgraded C and D models in late 2007. These newer models featured improvements in fuel efficiency, boosting radar advances and avionics capabilities.
Lt. Col. Paul Shamy has been flying Eagles since 2002, both as a member of the Oregon Air National Guard and intervals on active duty deployments and temporary duty assignments. In his current assignment, he is the Assistant Director of Operations for the 123rd Fighter Squadron and serves as an instructor pilot. He volunteered to be the Project Officer for the 30-year celebration to reach out to members past and present.
“With all our roots that we have here in Portland, I felt that it was important to reconnect with our past members and introduce them to our current service members in a meaningful way,” said Shamy.
The daylong celebration was set up with tours of the air base; to include mission debriefs, visiting aviation veterans from the Korean and Vietnam Wars to the F-4 flying period, all the way up to the present, and concluded with the weapon loading competition and panel symposium.
“Looking at where we are, it is more than just an aircraft, it’s about the people because we have the best maintainers on the planet who work here,” he said.
Most of the Airmen in the unit that maintains the fleet of 21 Eagles are younger than the aircraft themselves. Shamy rebuffs the claim that some critics make about the F-15 C/D Airframe being past its prime.
“New planes are great but if you look at other airplanes the Air Force is still flying like the KC-35 (Stratotanker) B-52 (Stratofortress) and even A-10 (Warthog), our Air Force has done a great job of maintaining and upgrading these planes.”
The unit has deployed with their F-15’s to support Operation Atlantic Resolve twice since 2015. Four years ago in Romania and Hungary, and last year in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Bulgaria, not to mention nearly a dozen other training exercises around the country during this same period.
“Most of the pilots feel confident in executing the mission,” Shamy explained as he described the broader mission over time. “We can be tactically relevant when we go to a Red Flag (exercise), a Northern Edge exercise or anything big because we are still on the leading edge of air-to-air superiority when we go out the door.”
During the panel discussion that concluded the day, Shamy introduced nearly a dozen former and current pilots, and maintenance technicians, both retired and still actively serving. The themes ranged from significant memories to important miles stones reached during their careers. Retired Maj. Gen. David E.B. Ward highlighted the transformation passage from the F-4 to the F-15 with personal accounts from a dual pilot and leadership perspective.
“I was the oldest pilot in the Air Force flying the F-15 when we made the conversion,” said Ward, during the panel symposium. “I kept thinking that I would have loved to had flown the Eagle when I was a younger man.”
When the 142nd started receiving F-15’s from other units, some of them were ready for extended phase maintenance since many of the A and B model Eagles were being handed off from active duty units to their Air Guard constituents.
“Some of the airplanes were pretty rough when we got them,” Ward noted. “But having been the Maintenance Group commander here, I knew our team was looking forward to having the upgraded F-15 airframe to support our alert mission.”
The durability for supporting the flying mission while also having a lasting affiliation with the unit was reflected in other key leaders returning during the celebration. For previous and now retired 142nd Fighter Wing Commanders, like Brig. Gen. Steven Gregg and Col. Brad Applegate, the day was a chance to see old friends and wander the airbase again.
“It was good to come back and catch up with so many people I served with,” said Applegate, as he encountered familiar Airmen on the flightline during the weapons loading competition. “In some ways, the (PANG) base has changed a lot, but in other ways, it still feels very familiar too.”