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FighterSweep Fans, every time I glance through the photos from Klamath Falls, I’m absolutely amazed. The amount of work  put into the 173rd Fighter Wing’s Oregon Air National Guard 75th Anniversary jet is absolutely staggering, and they’ve created the most exquisite paint scheme ever to adorn an F-15.

I mean that with the utmost respect, and though our friends in the JASDF have done some amazing work with their jets in the past, they don’t eclipse the greatness of 79-041 and its 75th Anniversary paint scheme. Even when the jet was still in the paint barn, with most of its surfaces still masked and in progress, it was nothing short of awe-inspiring. It was one of my first stops when I arrived in Klamath Falls, where I was introduced to the men behind this screaming Eagle.

The team who designed the scheme and actually painted the F-15 consisted of Airman First Class Carlos Ruiz; Senior Airman Spencer Bryant; Senior Airman Mike Vinson; Senior Airman Nick Johnson; Staff Sergeant Tim Bodnar, Staff Sergeant Sam Whitlatch, Technical Sergeant Zack Stone; and Master Sergeant Paul Allen. As we spoke of yesterday, these men worked tirelessly for weeks on end, overcoming significant obstacles in order to get it done. They were exhausted but smiling, and extremely proud of what they’d accomplished.

Truly humbling is the fact FighterSweep was the outside entity given the first real look at the airplane. Some would say it’s all about luck and timing, and while I’ll raise a glass to that sentiment, I honestly believe it’s more than that.

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The 173rd Fighter Wing flagship, loaded with six AIM-120 AMRAAMs and two AIM-9X Sidewinders. (Pho… http://sumo.ly/iD0Z via @fightersweep

Brigadier General Pierce, Colonel Smith, and all of the great Americans at the 173rd Fighter Wing could have had their pick of who they wanted to showcase this Eagle to the world for the first time. There are some incredibly talented folks with a wealth of experience and some amazing bodies of work in this field, and any of them would have loved to have had the first crack at it.

They still chose us.

They trusted us with their vision, and believed we could execute the mission to publicize the jet and the Oregon Air National Guard in such a way that would do them justice. So to say we’re grateful would be the understatement of the year, and it comes back to our mission at the outset: to help units like the Oregon Air National Guard tell their story, and to be good stewards of every opportunity.

Like C.W. Lemoine speaks of in his latest, it isn’t a show-up-go-up type of event.This visit to the Land of No Slack took months of planning and coordination between multiple agencies. For example, in order for us to capture the Oregon Air National Guard and its 75th Anniversary as a whole, we needed to involve the 142nd Fighter Wing and their F-15s up in Portland. Their involvement meant deconflicting their operations schedule to match up with ours. We had a tanker to support us from Fairchild Air Force Base and the 141st Air Refueling Wing. We had the Seattle Air Route Traffic Control Center handling our airspace considerations. The list goes on…

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Mission Brief materials, formation cards, and lineup cards await the pilots for the Oregon Air Na… http://sumo.ly/iD0Z via @fightersweep

You have to over-plan and cover as many of the what-ifs as you can without unduly straining personnel, aircraft, and infrastructure. The primary mission of the 173rd is to train the next generation of air dominance, so that will always take precedence. Anything we did had to work around that schedule and the student DLOs (Designated Learning Objectives).

Admittedly, in my attempts to adequately cover all the bases, it’s safe to say I drove my PROJO nuts at times. I emailed him formation cards, texted him with example photographs depicting what I was hoping to capture, and called him with questions: “How will the jets be configured?” “What did Portland say?” “Have you talked to the tanker folks?” “How much slip do we have in our land time?” “What do you think of this angle?” “Do you think the tower will let us do that?”

Cue, you have the patience of a saint, and I’m thankful!

The trip was a huge success, and the fruits of all that collective labor are still being harvested–and probably will be for some time. Today, we wanted to share with you the first real look at the jet. We were there from the time it was first rolled out; its first public appearance for a promotion and change of command; through its first flight to make sure everything was good after having been grounded so long; our flight around Oregon landmarks; and finally a late evening for some beauty shots. A lot of hours invested, a lot of work put in, and a lot of fun had by all.

Roll Out:

First Flight:

Following a scheduled day off after Sunday’s promotion ceremony and change of command, it was back to business as usual at Kingsley Field. Prior to the first go, Senior Master Sergeant Ryan Rainville–the 173rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron (AMXS) Production Superintendent (ProSuper), came to the ops desk and expressed a desire to have 041 fly in the afternoon. The jet had been offline for several weeks as the new paint was applied and he had concerns about whether or not she would be ready for our mission the following day.

From The Cockpit: Lone Star Gunfighters!

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Airplanes are kind of finicky machines. The more they fly, the happier they are–for the most part. In a lot of cases, if a jet sits too long, it will be temperamental and not want to work correctly. Since our mission was several months in the making and had been rescheduled several times, he wanted to make sure everything was perfect. Keeping that in mind, the Supervisor of Flight (SOF) that day put the aircraft into a Red Air line for the afternoon launch. My PROJO, Major “Cue,” would be the first person to fly it with the new paint.

Cue stepped for his sortie and 041 cranked up right away–no red balls, no gremlins, no hiccups. Taxi and takeoff were standard; Cue was airborne for his ACM sortie as fragged. Approximately an hour later, the afternoon SOF, Lieutenant Colonel “Freq,” and I went out to shoot some photos for Cue’s return. Knowing we would be out there, Cue took advantage of the opportunity and wrung 041 out in the pattern, indeed making sure all was well.

It was, and the 75th Anniversary scheme looked absolutely phenomenal in the pattern.

Oregon By Air:

I had an awesome group of guys to fly with on the day we got 041 airborne for her beauty shots. The Wing Commander, “Sled” Smith, was leading us in his newly-minted flagship. “Griz,” the Det 2 (the active duty contingent at Kingsley) Commander, was our#2, flying the Sharkmouth jet–which is pretty badass, too! “Thermo,” an instructor pilot also on active duty, flew the former 65th Aggressor Squadron tail as our #3. “Stiff,” also active duty and Det 2’s Director of Operations, drew the short straw and had to fly me around to get the shots. But honestly, I couldn’t have asked for a better, more professional, or more accommodating group of pilots to work with. They were awesome.

It was a long sortie. From the moment we stepped to the moment we walked back into the Ops building, nearly four hours elapsed. Like I said, the guys were phenomenal, and we overcame a few challenges in the air to get the photos you see below.

What a fantastic time.

We have a lot more to come from the Land of No Slack, but it’s important to acknowledge a lot of the key players on the operations side who facilitated the timing and opportunity for our 75th Anniversary visit:

Tick, Sled, Pappy, Thug, and Kid were driving the train from the leadership side, and I’m grateful they were so supportive of our ideas. Coma, Gringo, and Ryan were always ahead of the game on AMXS side of things, making sure the jets we requested for the flight were all appropriately loaded and ready to go. We had no maintenance troubles at all, and 041 was always available and ready to get the variety of shots we were looking to capture. Thanks to them for shifting their timelines and making sure personnel were available to move the airplane around and help however they could. It was an amazing effort.

Axe, Tiny, and Mr. Witt in the scheduling office helped deconflict timelines and interagency scheduling  issues, and were also very helpful in answering questions. Dawg, Klepto, Ripple, and Freq were kind enough to let me tag along in the SOF truck in the mornings and afternoons to get day-to-day images. Thanks also to Stretch and his folks for making sure everything was smooth on airspace requirements and timelines, and also for answering my dumb questions. Thank you also to Senior Master Sergeant Pete Weigman in Airfield Management to helping me get a good lay of the land and scope out good spots to shoot from!

Trigger was an absolute champ as well, very patient with me during the months of coordination, and he handled the security approval and camera equipment issues like the professional he is. Thanks to Troy L. for reviewing all of the imagery and video clips, making sure all of the visual content was good to go. These guys made sure all the appropriate containers were checked (and re-checked).

The awesome gals in the HARM office–Master Sergeant Summer Jordre, Technical Sergeant Lisa Tysor, and Staff Sergeant Megan Alaniz–made sure all of the paperwork in my flight packet was in order, and all the signatures were in place when it was go time. Doc Stixx and his staff at the Medical Group were great–standard–and got my flight medical squared away in no time. Thanks to you all for making that painless.

To the professionals back in the AFE shop, Tech Sergeant Kayla McKenzie and Staff Sergeant Thomas Howard, thank you to you and your techs for making sure everything was ready. I’m very appreciative for another fantastic egress briefing and for the use of the gear. You all are a class act!

Last, but certainly not least, another huge THANK YOU to Master Sergeant Jennifer Shirar and Technical Sergeant Jeff Thompson from the Public Affairs shop. Without their trust and assistance, none of this would have been possible. To say I am grateful sells it short, but it’s the best I can do.

And for anyone else not mentioned directly, please know your efforts and inputs are not forgotten, nor taken for granted.

No Slack!

Check out Fighter Sweep for more great photo galleries and articles.

Images courtesy of Scott Wolff and Fighter Sweep

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