by Staff Sgt. Matt Benedetti
104th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
4/18/2011 - (Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla.) -- Air Force personnel are trained to operate in uncertain environments and to adapt to changing circumstances. Shifting from the air to ground mission of the A-10 Warthog to the air to air mission of the F-15 Eagle presented the Barnestormers of the 104th Fighter Wing in Massachusetts with challenges associated with a major transition.
The 2007 re-designation has not been without its obstacles but 104th members have faced the transition with determination and a positive attitude that reflects their professional approach to each mission.
This trademark character was on display in support of the Weapon System Evaluation Program (WSEP) and Exercise COMBAT ARCHER at Tyndall AFB in Florida from 8 April to 22 April 2011. The two week training and evaluation program and associated exercise are designed to evaluate the entire weapons system-from aircrew to machine to weapon. Weapon performance is evaluated from the time it leaves the ammunition storage area, through loading, shooting, fly out and timeout. The exercise allows the unit to identify shortfalls in the entire weapons system. It also provides vital training for F-15 pilots to employ air to- air missiles against real world targets.
Several pilots of the previous A-10 Thunderbolt mission volunteered to train in the F-15 Eagle and remain members of the 104th. Lt. Col. Thomas Kelly, an Albany, N.Y. native, is looking forward to firing live missiles at WSEP. He served as an A-10 driver for 10 years before deciding to attend the four month school to become an F-15 pilot. Kelly felt that the camaraderie and unit cohesion of the 104th was important. "I decided that I wanted to stay at Barnes," he said. "These were the people that I served with since 98 and during OIF (Operation IRAQI FREEDOM). This is the family I was accustomed to working with and going to war with," Kelly said.
Although many of the skills learned as a Warthog pilot are commensurate with those of the Eagle, the flying practices of the two planes are distinct. The F-15 travels at a much higher speed and the G forces are greater. Having achieved a high level of proficiency as an A-10 driver, learning the new skills required as an F-15 pilot can be a difficult endeavor. "You have to check your ego, you may have been an expert on the A-10 but it takes awhile to master flying a different plane," he said.
Enlisted personnel operating on the flightline have managed to integrate established doctrine and adapt to working on a different aircraft. "The jet engine in the F-15 can suck you in, so you need to be aware," said Staff Sgt. Ryan Quigley of West Brookfield. "We will be loading a lot of missiles but it is going to be great," said the weapons loader who recently re-enlisted. At WSEP, they will be loading live weapons.
The MXG Officer in Charge (OIC) during the WSEP exercise is Maj. Peter Carr. A veteran of OIF, where as a sortie generation officer, he was part of a team that produced upwards of 40 sorties a day in a combat environment, "We had a 98% sortie effectiveness rate, we learned a lot, and the professionalism we brought home with us continues to be present on the flightline today," said the Southwick, MA resident.
"Our unit being, with the A-10 for so long, went through a culture shock moving from air-to-ground to air-to-air mission. The F-15 mission is all about radar and identifying targets from far away...it's just a different animal, but a righteous mission! We are part of new proud heritage with the Eagle and our guys are on board now. The incentive rides in the jet don't hurt either," he added.
The Maintenance Group gained 179 military positions and more than 60 full-time positions with the new mission, it speaks to the complexity of the Eagle.
"We have a number of people that have never been on a trip like WSEP, myself included. This is just one more résumé builder for the 104th Fighter Wing, as well as a great opportunity to get great training for Ops and Maintenance, "said Carr.
"I've been in the Guard for 18 years. I had planned to be in for six, to get the educational benefits. Not long in to my first term, I found this exciting job, great people, and outstanding lifestyle. I used to work full-time at an insurance company, and you would fall asleep if I told you what I did for a living. There are days that I go home and I can't believe they pay us for this....and I can look my kids square in the eye. Glad to be here, proud to serve," he said.
An A-10 Warthog sits on the ramp at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla. alongside the 104th Fighter Wing's F-15s Eagles as they participate in Exercise COMBAT ARCHER, during the Weapons System Evaluation Program. The exercise allows pilots and maintainers valuable training in the employment of live air-to-air munitions and tests the capabilities of the weapon systems. (photo by Master Sgt. Mark Fortin, 104th FW/PA) Hi-res
Note: Pictured is A-10C 120 from the 47th Fighter Squadron, 917th Fighter Group, Barksdale AFB, Florida.