The Land of No Slack! – The 173rd Fighter Wing

Oregon Air National Guard

By André Jans and Peter Steendam.

 

Index.

 

  • The History of Kingsley Field and the 173rd Fighter Wing.
  • Kingsley Field’s Namesake.
  • The 173rd Fighter Wing Organization.
  • The F-15 Eagle fighter.
  • F-15 Eagle in 173rd Fighter Wing service.
  • Sentry Eagle – the 2007 report.
  • Credits

 

  • The History of Kingsley Field and the 173rd Fighter Wing. (173rd Fact sheet)

Kingsley Field is named for Second Lieutenant David R. Kingsley; an Oregon World War II hero who was killed in action on June 23, 1944, after a bombing mission over the oil fields at Ploesti, Romania.  The first military presence in Klamath Falls began in 1942 when the U.S. Navy opened the Klamath Falls Naval Air Station. Before their departure in 1946 they built many of the hangars and constructed three paved runways.

In 1954, the U.S. Air Force selected Klamath Falls as an ideal site for the establishment of an all-weather-fighter-interceptor-squadron and an aircraft control and warning squadron. The squadrons filled the gap in the air defense system between Portland and San Francisco. The U.S. Air Force operated the base from 1956 to 1970. Then in 1971 the unit relocated and only a small alert detachment remained until 1979.

The 104th Tactical Control Squadron was the first Oregon Air National Guard unit to be stationed at Kingsley Field. They provided ground radar control for fighter aircraft from 1971 to 1981. In 1982, the U.S. Air Force announced a proposal to establish an air defense schoolhouse for F-4 Phantoms under the Air National Guard. Major “Wild Bill” Morris became the squadron commander for the newly formed 8123rd Fighter Interceptor Training Squadron. Captain Bill Cox came down from Portland, Oregon as a full-time instructor pilot to help “Wild Bill” build up the new F-4 schoolhouse. The 8123rd Fighter Interceptor Training Squadron was activated on January 1, 1983, and the first F-4 pilot training class began on February 1, 1983. The school’s initial course offered Operational Training Course and Air Defense to four students, taught by three instructors using two F-4C aircraft. A total of nine students graduated the first year.
The 114th Fighter Squadron began training pilots in 1983. Known then as the 8123rd Fighter Interceptor Training Squadron, the squadron trained F-4C pilots and F-4C Weapon Systems Officers. In 1984, upon official recognition, the unit’s name changed to the 114th Tactical Fighter Training Squadron. The designation changed again in 1992 to the 114th Fighter Squad. F-4C pilot training continued until 1988, when the unit converted to an F-16 pilot training schoolhouse.
Kingsley Field is now home to the 173rd Fighter Wing, activated on June 27, 1996. The 173rd Fighter Wing’s F-15 training mission is aligned under the Air Education and Training Command.  When the 173rd Fighter Wing was officially activated, the 114th Fighter Squadron became the flying component of the 173rd Fighter Wing and fell under the Operations Group. F-16 pilot training continued for nine years at Kingsley Field and in 1998 the 173rd Fighter Wing converted to the F-15 Eagle. Today, the 114th Fighter Squadron proudly carries on the tradition of training the best fighter pilots in the world.

 

The 114th Fighter Squadron gets its numerical designation from the 114th Fighter Interceptor Squadron of the New York Air National Guard (deactivated in September, 1958). The squadron descends from the 439th Bombardment Squadron (Medium) that flew with the 319th Bombardment Group during World War II and was inactivated and allotted to the New York Air National Guard in May, 1946. The numerical designation changed to the 114th at that time.

 

The 173rd Fighter Wing shares Kingsley field with civilian users and is a major keystone of the local economy generating some $85 million each year. Besides a passenger terminal, cargo companies like FedEx find their way to Kingsley Field. General aviation is also present providing FBO’s and flight schools. Third ‘Player’ is the Klamath Falls Air Tanker Base which is located on the North east side of the runways.  Air Tankers are frequently used during the summer season whenever life-threatening wild fires in start in the mountains.

 

  • Kingsley Field’s Namesake

Kingsley Field is named for Second Lieutenant David R. Kingsley, an Oregon World War II hero killed in action on June 23, 1944, during a bombing mission over the oil fields at Ploesti, Rumania. Lieutenant Kingsley served as a bombardier on a B-17F aircraft which became severely damaged by intense flak during the bomb run and from attacks by German ME-109 enemy fighters during egress.
When his pilot commanded the crew to bail out, Lieutenant Kingsley immediately began assisting two wounded gunners into their parachute harnesses. The tail gunner’s harness, believed to be damaged, could not be located. With disregard for his means of escape, Lieutenant Kingsley put his own harness on the wounded tail gunner and aided the men in bailing out.  Lieutenant Kingsley’s body was later found in the B-17 wreckage. Lieutenant Kingsley, directly responsible for saving the life of the wounded gunner, posthumously received the Medal of Honor award for his gallant action.

His Medal of Honor citation reads:”For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty, 23 June 1944 near Ploesti, Rumania, while flying as bombardier of a B17 type aircraft. On the bomb run 2d Lt. Kingsley’s aircraft was severely damaged by intense flak and forced to drop out of formation but the pilot proceeded over the target and 2d Lt. Kingsley successfully dropped his bombs, causing severe damage to vital installations. The damaged aircraft, forced to lose altitude and to lag behind the formation, was aggressively attacked by 3 ME-109 aircraft, causing more damage to the aircraft and severely wounding the tail gunner in the upper arm. The radio operator and engineer notified 2d Lt. Kingsley that the tail gunner had been wounded and that assistance was needed to check the bleeding. 2d Lt. Kingsley made his way back to the radio room, skillfully applied first aid to the wound, and succeeded in checking the bleeding. The tail gunner’s parachute harness and heavy clothes were removed and he was covered with blankets, making him as comfortable as possible. Eight ME-109 aircraft again aggressively attacked 2d Lt. Kingsley’s aircraft and the ball turret gunner was wounded by 20mm. shell fragments. He went forward to the radio room to have 2d Lt. Kingsley administer first aid. A few minutes later when the pilot gave the order to prepare to bail out, 2d Lt. Kingsley immediately began to assist the wounded gunners in putting on their parachute harness. In the confusion the tail gunner’s harness, believed to have been damaged, could not be located in the bundle of blankets and flying clothes which had been removed from the wounded men. With utter disregard for his own means of escape, 2d Lt. Kingsley unhesitatingly removed his parachute harness and adjusted it to the wounded tail gunner. Due to the extensive damage caused by the accurate and concentrated 20mm fire by the enemy aircraft the pilot gave the order to bail out, as it appeared that the aircraft would disintegrate at any moment. 2d Lt. Kingsley aided the wounded men in bailing out and when last seen by the crewmembers he was standing on the bomb bay catwalk. The aircraft continued to fly on automatic pilot for a short distance, then crashed and burned. His body was later found in the wreckage. 2d Lt. Kingsley by his gallant heroic action was directly responsible for saving the life of the wounded gunner.”

 

  • The 173rd Fighter Wing Organization.

Like in many air forces, the pilots and planes easily suck up all attention from the general public but ‘insiders’ know very well that it takes a fine-tuned organization to keep those pilots and planes up in the air. Today’s fighters like the F-15 eagle are very complex machines and require a lot of specialized personnel to operate and maintain. Specialized maintenance sections handle a load of critical jobs like engines, armament, radar, fuel, air traffic control and so on. Even less known parts of the 173rd Fighter Wing like the dentist, public affairs and chaplain play their role inside the organization.  Currently, the 173rd FW has 750 men and women assigned; of which, 500 are full-time personnel.  It is one of the largest employers in the Klamath Falls area and adds over $15 million to its local economy each year.

 

The 173rd Fighter Wing Units.

 

173rd Operations Group

  • 114th Fighter Squadron “The Land of No slack”

 

173rd Maintenance Group

  • 173rd Logistics Readiness Squadron
  • 173rd Communications Squadron
  • 173rd Civil Engineering Squadron
  • 173rd Security Forces Squadron

 

173rd Medical Group

 

Tennant Units

 

270th Air Traffic Control Squadron

 

4- The F-15 Eagle fighter.

The F-15 Eagle is an all-weather, twin engine tactical fighter developed by McDonnell Douglas in the late sixties to meet the requirements for a new modern jet fighter that would be capable of gaining and maintaining aerial superiority. Until that time aircraft types like the Convair F-106 Delta Dagger ruled the Western skies, but the pressure of the Cold War demanded a new-skilled fighter plane;  one that could stand up to and succeed over the latest Soviet product, the MIG-25 Foxbat. In the late sixties the Vietnam War was going into its final stage. As part of the air warfare ops, another product of McDonnell Douglas, the F-4 Phantom, played an important role in the tactical ground assault, but the plane was not effective enough to deal with the new MIG-25 threat and the future dog fight requirements. Its turning rate was high and the smoky engines gave away a lot of advantages during close dog fight maneuvers.

 

The new USAF requirements were expressed in the so called F-X program which was answered by McDonnell Douglas launching their brand new F-15A fighter. The new fighter flew its first flight in July, 1972, and first entered USAF service in 1976. Up to today (2011), the original design still lives on in the upgraded models like the F-15C/D Eagle, F-15E Strike Eagle and the new (Boeing) F-15 Silent Eagle. Export orders were placed by Saudi Arabia, Israel, Japan and South Korea. In 1997, McDonnell Douglas was taken over by Boeing, and as of today the production lines are still open producing the F-15K version for export to South Korea. Recently Boeing launched the new F-15 Silent Eagle concept based on the F-15E Strike Eagle version adding many new gadgets to its original design including a limited Stealth capacity. The Silent Eagle was offered to the Pentagon as a (cheaper) alternative for the so far ill-fated JSF/F-35 program.

 

When the F-15A/B versions entered the operational theaters in the early 70’s, its main mission as intended by the F-X program was to maintain aerial superiority and its serious opponent at that time was the Grumman F-14 Tomcat, flown by the US Navy. It took a while for the Soviet Union build a comparable counter-threat by sending up the MIG-29 and SU-27 fighters. Although the F-15A/B served the USAF very well, it’s surprising that it was the Israeli Air Force (IAF) who first used it in aerial combat over the skies of Lebanon.  The Syrian Air Force paid a heavy price by engaging the IAF Eagles, as it lost over 50 planes between 1979 and 1982.

 

The upgraded F-15C and D models entered production in 1978. Major upgrades included more internal fuel, more engine trust, and a load of new electronic equipment, including the new APG-63 radar which uses a programmable signal processor. It was the F-15C that the USAF used successfully in combat missions during Operation Desert Storm in 1991, where the Eagles claimed 36 out of 39 aerial kills. Also the Saudi Arabian Air Force F-15C claimed 2 victories around that time.

 

Later on, the USAF F-15C was involved in operations over Iraq as part of Operation Southern Watch, and over Bosnia in 1995. Follow up operations over Yugoslavia resulted in the shooting down of 4 MIG-29 fighters, using the new AIM-120 AMRAAM medium range missiles.  Although never operated by the 173rd Fighter Wing, a ground assault version of the F-15 was developed in the mid-eighties to replace the F-4 Phantom. The new ‘mudmovers’ were listed F-15E Strike Eagle and played a major role in past and current combat ops for the USAF. It built an impressive record during Desert Storm, Kosovo, OEF and OIF operations.

 

  • F-15 Eagle in 173rd Fighter Wing service.

Although the McDonnell Douglas F-15 has operated in US service since 1976, it has only been operating out of Kingsley Field since 1998, taking up the pilot training role. Prior to this, most F-15 student training took place at Tyndall AFB since 1983, for the USAF.  The ANG received their first F-15A/B, and later on also the F-15C/D. After the Cold war ended many regular frontline USAF units turned in their F-15A/B fighters for the newer C/D versions, and the older planes were being taken over by AFRES and ANG units. To support Tyndall’s training wing, the 173rd took over the training role for the reserve and ANG. As the years passed by, the number of USAF students at Kingsley Field grew as a result of the introduction of the new F-22 Raptor, which sucked up training resources at Tyndall AFB. In 2007, the ratio of USAF to ANG students was already at 70 percent USAF to 30 percent ANG.

Tyndall AFB finally lost its F-15C Eagles on 21st September 2010 when 95FS said goodbye to its last F-15 fighters making Tyndall AFB a full Raptor base from that day on. Training F-15 student pilots is a little different than at USAF levels, as many pilots who enter the ANG in general, come from USAF units and may only need a conversion course to operate an F-15C Eagle, safely.  In the USAF, most students come from basic flight training units. After completing their T-6 and T-38 courses, the F-15D is most likely their first, real fighter jet experience.  This requires a very flexible training setup dealing with all kinds of student levels. Due to the fact that ANG pilots come from regular units in general, involved pilots carry a bag full of flight hours (read experience) which benefits their new home units making them excellent candidates for the instructor role within the 173rd FW. Training F-15 students is serious business though. To make everyone in the unit aware of this, the 173rd FW carries its slogan “NO SLACK” (no laziness) with pride.

 

Although the 173rd FW is a training unit which rarely deploys aircraft outside of the state and country, it has been deploying to Danmark, Poland (2001) and Australia (2008) in previous years. 173rd personnel deploy all around the globe, frequently filling temporary holes in the regular USAF organization. Another big impact for the 173rd was the tragic events of September 11, 2001. The Oregon ANG is embedded in the West coast air defense structure where the 142FW at Portland, OR handles the northwest sector and the 144th FW based at Fresno, CA handles the Southwest duties. Both 142FW and 144 FW have armed jet fighters on Quick Response Alert duty spread over several airfields along the West coast. Prior to 9-11, these jet fighters were scrambled to identify unknown airplanes entering US airspace. Many of these unknown contacts were caused by communication malfunctions in regular airliners or illegal drug transports from Mexico or Canada. When 9-11 showed the world that airliners could be used as a weapon by terrorists, this QRA duty grew greater in importance. Although the 173rd has no QRA duty itself, on 9-11 it had armed jets ready if needed, to support their neighbors. Over 100 part-time 173rd FW members were called to active duty by Presidential Order and served full time for many months supporting 142FW and 144FW. Many also deployed around the globe when Operation Enduring Freedom started.

 

Another impact on 173rd FW operations appeared on November 2, 2007, when a Missouri Air National Guard F-15C crashed due to a technical failure in the airframe structure. Luckily the pilot was able to eject and land safely afterwards. As a result of this crash, the whole F-15 fleet worldwide was grounded awaiting the crash investigation report and inspection afterwards. It took months to clear aircraft for operational use again. Most of the ANG’s older F-15A/B jets were retired to AMARC as costs to strengthen the airframe structures were too high. The crash aftermath took a large toll on the F-15 student training at 173rd as hardly any aircraft were available for a long time delaying programs badly. A lot of today’s pilot training takes place with the help of simulators, but each pilot needs a certain amount of flight hours before he or she can receive their wings.

 

  • Sentry Eagle – the 2007 report.

 

The state of Oregon could easily have been renamed Eagle Country from Wednesday, August 8th to Saturday the 11th, when the 13th edition of the bi-annual Sentry Eagle exercise was held.  Flying from Kingsley Field in Klamath Falls, five F-15 Eagle fighter units ruled the Oregon skies during this large air defense exercise.

 

“Sentry Eagle is about Air Defense only, making it a unique opportunity for large-scale practice of aircraft interception skills in all their aspects,” said Col. Thomas Schiess, commanding officer of the 173rd Fighter Wing, Oregon Air National Guard.  “Although the related Red Flag exercises cover air-to-ground missions as well, we concentrate on CAP (Combat Air Patrol) sorties securing our air space.”

 

All of the F-15 units involved in Sentry Eagle 2007 play a major role in US Homeland Security, maintaining a 24-hour alert status to intercept unidentified aircraft.  These operations have shifted into high gear since the 9/11 attacks and still continue in high tempo today.  Sentry Eagle is an opportunity for the squadrons to test their skills, share knowledge, and create comradeship between personnel.

 

Two missions were flown each day, with up to 20 fighter aircraft participating in each.  Operations took place over Oregon and partly over Northern California.  Blue and Red Forces operated between the northern exercise area over Christmas Valley and the southern exercise area around Goose Lake, some 150 miles away.

 

The F-15 units made up the Blue Force.  The opposing Red Forces were provided by two F-16 units and a US Navy F/A-18C squadron.  Both Red and Blue forces had a KC-135R tanker from the 141st Air Refueling Wing, Washington ANG, assigned for support.

 

On board the northern tanker (call sign ‘EXPO 87’) on Friday, the authors witnessed first-hand the complexity of modern Air Defense operations and the professionalism of all personnel involved.  Eight F-16’s and two F-15’s hooked up to the tanker’s boom for some gas, all while flying at 350 knots and 22,000 feet.  Imagine trying to fill up your car with gas from another car at 150 miles per hour and you’ll appreciate the skill involved!

 

A milestone was achieved by Col. Richard “Peewee” Kelly, the  Commanding Officer of 114th Fighter Squadron (the flying unit of the part of 173rd FW), who reached 4000 flight hours when hooking up his F-15C with the other, southern tanker on Friday.

 

Mechanical problems lightly impacted the exercise when an F-16 blew a tire during recovery on Wednesday and ‘EXPO 87’ diverted to Fairchild Air Force Base on Friday.  All incidents were handled and solved with a level of professionalism that can be attributed to the experience of this being the 13th Sentry Eagle exercise.

 

Sentry Eagle 2007 included an Open House on Saturday, August 11th.  Rather than allow display teams to take over Kingsley Field, the 173rd FW used the open house to spotlight the talents of the unit’s men and women.  Local residents were invited to watch the personnel launch two full Sentry Eagle missions.  And some 15,000 came to see the action, smell the exhaust fumes, and check out the static aircraft displays and sales stands.

 

“Sentry Eagle Open House is our way to say a large thank-you to the local community for supporting our operations at Kingsley Field,” according to Col. Schiess.  “It’s a good opportunity for the ANG and the local population to become aware of each other.”

 

The sole air show performer was the F-15C West Coast team.  Capt. Tony “Baron’ Bierenkoven sliced up the Oregon sky in an impressive way with a borrowed 173rd FW aircraft, between the two Sentry Eagle missions.  After some high-speed, high-G maneuvers and a low-level afterburner display, he joined up with an F-86 Sabre, flown by Steve Hinton to form a Legacy Flight.  Capt. Bierenkoven is an experienced USAF F-15 Eagle pilot with almost 700 flight hours in the F-15, and is based at Eglin AFB, Florida.  Steve Hinton is an experienced warbird pilot and currently president of the Planes of Fame museum in Chino, California.

 

Another guest aircraft was the F-117 Stealth fighter, which made some non-aerobatic passes.

 

The authors want to thank following persons for providing assistance making this publication possible.

 

Major Megan Erickson (173FW)

Capt. Lucas Ritter (173FW/Community Affairs)

Capt. Michael Odle (173FW/PAO)

Nikki Jackson (141 ARW/PAO)

TSGT Nick Choy (OMDPAO)

Mark Munzel

Dan “Dsquare” Dixon

 

And all who served and still serve at today’s 173rd Fighter Wing.