Happy Friday, FighterSweep Fans! We hope you enjoy this tasty offering of soul-numbing, burner awesomeness, brought to you once again by the very talented Jonathan Derden
Great Falls, Montana has a rich history with military aviation, originally becoming a hotbed of activity during the first years of World War II as American-made aircraft were sent under the Lend-Lease act to the Soviet Union in an effort to halt the German advance.
Soon after the war, the 186th Fighter Squadron–the “Vigilantes”–was activated on June 27, 1947, and like most ANG units the unit initially received North American P-51 Mustangs.
Within a few years the squadron became the first Air National Guard unit to operate the North American F-86 Sabre, ushering Big Sky Country into the swept-wing jet age.
In 1955, the unit transitioned to the Lockheed-Martin F-94 Starfire, and then to the Convair F-102 Delta Dagger in 1966. By 1972, the unit was flying the Convair F-106 Delta Dart, conducting its 5-minute Runway Alert mission that is now known as Aerospace Control Alert, or ACA.
In mid-1987, the Montana Air National Guard transitioned to the F-16A/B Fighting Falcon. After Operation Desert Storm in 1991, the unit began converting to the “Big Mouth” Block 30 F-16C, so in addition to the Air Defense mission, they took on a true multi-role capability like any other F-16 unit in order to world-wide, Air Expeditionary Force operations.
In 2008, thanks to the Base closure and Re-Alignment Commission, the unit went through another airframe conversion, this time to the McDonnell Douglas (Boeing) F-15C Eagle. As a result, the mission returned strictly to air superiority and air sovereignty. Unfortunately the World’s Greatest Air Superiority Fighter™ had a rather short tenure with the Montana Air National Guard’s 186th Fighter Squadron, but the Eaglejet made a lasting impression on the Vigilantes’ legacy, and the community of Great Falls.