All of us, at some point or other, have started a conversation with the question, “Wouldn’t it be cool if…-”
Here at FighterSweep, we found ourselves in that exact scenario approximately four months ago. My most trusted colleagues and I were discussing possibilities for articles and projects, when Jonathan Derden asked, “Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if Shaw did a Wild Weasel 50th Anniversary paint scheme?”
The line went quiet as the three of us pondered how epic such a design might be, and another question broke the silence: “Do you know if they have any plans to do something?”
My response was honest. “I have no idea, but we can certainly ask.”
And ask we did.
As it turns out, no one at “The Home of the Wild Weasel” had plans to adorn the wing commander’s jet with anything other than it’s standard drop-shadow scheme–the same one it’s been for some time. Fortunately leadership at the 20th Fighter Wing is extremely passionate about the Wild Weasel mission, especially its history, and after really considering my question, they got excited.
“You know what? I think that would be really cool,” we were told. “Know of anyone that might be able to design something like that for us?”
“Yeah, I think I might know a guy,” was my sarcastic response, knowing that a dear friend and FighterSweep colleague–Kenneth Lustig–was also one of the most talented graphic artists on the planet.
Within a few days, we at FighterSweep produced the first concepts of what a Wild Weasel tail flash might look like. There was a selection process to see which design gained the most favor, and once that was done, the task started coming to life. Adapted from a historical shoulder patch in the Wild Weasel community, the road to bringing “Slapshot” back to life was not an easy one, and it’s only because of the persistence and dedication of Colonel Bryan Harris, Chief Master Sergeant Jason Tiek, Master Sergeant John Lewis, and their talented, persistent airmen at the 20th Maintenance Group, that the project even got off the ground.
With us every step of the way, and a major driving force behind the project, was Colonel Paul Murray, the 20th Operations Group commander. An outspoken champion of the SEAD/DEAD mission, Murray was commander of the 480th Fighter Squadron in 2011 when Operation Odyssey Dawn kicked off over Libya, sending Wild Weasels back to war for the first time in almost a decade.
After several weeks loaded with multiple phone calls, emails, waivers, and miles of red tape, Colonel Murray called me with the news. “It’s a go! Since our paint shop is down, Moody Air Force Base is going to allow us to use theirs, and we’re hoping to have it done in time for the Wild Weasel Tactics Conference.”
At that point, everything started falling into place. Under the leadership of Master Sergeant Lewis, Technical Sergeant Todd Bosley coordinated with the 23rd EMS at Moody to work logistics–to include the procurement and assembly of all the materials needed, and also helped with execution on a variety of levels. Staff Sergeant Joseph Shelton and Senior Airman Stephanie Arwood worked details of design before they went to Moody, and Airman First Class Anthony Jimenez helped with material and travel prep as well.
Shelton, Arwood, and Jimenez all traveled to Moody to apply the paint, with Staff Sergeant James Noble working as the project lead. Bosley and Lewis stayed behind at Shaw, making sure all was well with coordination between the two installations.
“This was very historical for our personnel and the USAF as a whole,” said Master Sergeant Lewis. “I have been attached to a lot of significant events over my twenty-one years, and I am not sure any can top this.”
The deputy commander of the 20th Operations Group, Lieutenant Colonel Scott Walker, brought the jet home nearly three weeks ago. Aside from the short time from when Walker landed to when the jet was rolled into a hangar to be hidden away, the airplane was kept out of sight–meant to be a surprise to the Old Guard of the Wild Weasel Society, as well as the rest of the current crop of Wild Weasels flying the Block 50 F-16CJ.
To see these senior members of the Wild Weasel community utter, “Oh wow!” and break into applause even before the hangar was fully open was just icing on the cake. Their heritage is very proud and steep, so bringing “Slapshot” back to life after a long hiatus is easily one of the most amazing things we’ve ever been a part of.
We’d like to thank Colonel Stephen “Jester” Jost, 20 FW/CC; Colonel Paul “Dino” Murray, 20 OG/CC; Colonel Bryan Harris, 20 MXG/CC; Lieutenant Colonel Scott “Spyder” Walker, 20 OG/CD; Captain Steve “Cage” Cecil, 20 OG/CCE; 2LT Jennifer Hyden, 20 FW/PA; CMSGT Jason Tiek, 20 MXG/CCC; MSGT John Lewis, 20 EMS/MXMF and SSGT Kenny Holston, 20 FW/PA.
As always, the professionals at Shaw AFB are a fantastic group to work with, and we look forward to our return in the very near future. The story of “Slapshot”is just beginning, so stay tuned for more.
First In…Last Out!