America’s Air Superiority Starts Here: Land of NO SLACK, Part 2
173rd Fighter Wing – Oregon Air National Guard
Klamath Falls, Oregon
America’s Air Superiority Starts Here
Land of NO SLACK
Part 2: Operations
On 4 May 2021, I had a fantastic visit to the 173rd Fighter Wing, of the Oregon Air National Guard. Situated in beautiful southern Oregon in Klamath Falls, the 173rd FW trains F-15 Eagle pilots, and has been doing so since 1998. The base started training fighter pilots in air superiority in 1983 with the F-4C Phantom, and in 1988 the F-16A Fighting Falcon arrived. In March 1989 the Air Defense Fighter (ADF) variant of the F-16 was brought on board. You can see more history of the Wing and about David R. Kingsley, for whom the airfield is named for, HERE.
In the morning, I spent time with Maintenance, and in the afternoon, with Operations.
But first, I must thank the folks that made the visit possible:
• All the members of the 173rd Fighter Wing
• “Axe”, for being receptive to my request idea, communicating and coordinating
• SMSgt Jennifer Shirar, 173rd FW Public Affairs Superintendent, for her support, coordination, trust, guidance, and airplane display escort
• Brian, 173d Maintenance Squadron, for his support, escort duties, finding unique photo opportunities and knowledge sharing
• All the folks in Maintenance, including leadership, the crew chiefs, flight line, aircraft maintainers, engine shop, hydraulic shop, and fuel cell maintenance, for allowing me to shadow and get photos and ask questions
• ”Tiny”, 114th Fighter Squadron, for his support and assistance while juggling flying duties
• “Hog”, 550th FS, for his support, escort duties, and knowledge sharing while managing Supervisor of Flying Ops
• All the folks in Operations for their support, and allowing me to shadow and get photos and ask questions
• Security Forces at the main gate, for a friendly, professional, and seamless entry
The afternoon of the visit focused on Operations, and you can see my article on Maintenance HERE.
114th Fighter Squadron / 550th Fighter Squadron
The 114th FS is the flying unit of the 173rd Operations Group / 173rd Fighter Wing.
The 550th FS is an active-duty squadron, which became official at an activation ceremony on 21 July 2017 at Kingsley Field. The squadron reports into the 56th Operations Group at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona. It was brought to Kingsley Field to help with the training of F-15C pilots.
Shortly after lunch I headed back to Operations / 114th FS / 550th FS in preparation for the afternoon flying. “Tiny”, who was my original scheduled escort, was tasked with flying, and “Hog” became my escort while also performing Supervisor of Flying (SOF) duties. While waiting I walked around a bit marveling at the plethora of photos, paintings, artifacts, and other items that historically decorated the Operations’ area.
Shortly, some pilots arrived and were looking over documents and the large screens on the wall and talking with Hog. I did not want to disturb them as they got their briefing, so I quietly took some photos from behind and to the side of them.
Hog then said it was time for us to head out to the ramp. We went outside and got into a pickup and drove out to the flight line where 4 Eagles were busily being prepped for the afternoon launch. I jumped out and started taking photos from the opposite end I had in the morning.
I took photos of both maintainers and pilots prepping, as I did in the morning, with the flurry of activity working between a massive ramp construction project. For the theme of this article, image use will primarily be on the aircraft and pilots. The pilots were a mix of instructors and students, both from the 114th FS and 550th FS. The teamwork was seamless, just like in the morning.
Something special that I forgot to mention in the Maintainers article was F-15C Eagle 79-0046 with the shark mouth markings. It was the first time I had seen an F-15 in person with a shark mouth, and it was subtle and not gaudy at all.
Once the first couple of jets taxied from their spot, I got back into the truck with Hog and we drove over to the area in which the last checks are performed. We were there for just a minute or two and Hog graciously asked me where I would like to set up for pictures by the side of the runway, asking what types of shots I was looking for. We went about one third the way down and parked on a taxiway.
Take offs and landings
Soon, the first jet was roaring down the runway towards us. As it was the first time I had taken pictures at Kingsley Field, I was not exactly sure where the jets would rotate to lift off and at what height they would be as they passed, especially as they were not carrying external tanks, and I didn’t know if afterburners would be used (which they did). In the end, it all worked out well, and special thanks to Hog for knowing where to set up, and I cannot thank him enough for helping me get the shots! Being so close that you feel 50,000 pounds of thrust taking off never gets old!
After the 4th jet departed, I got back into the truck and Hog drove down to the area where the arrestor cable was set up and we parked there, awaiting the jets to return. During this time, we talked about the F-15EX and the other potential future aircraft of the 173rd FW.
Soon, the jets started to return, and the spot Hog had set up was perfect for the landing shots. Interestingly during this time, a Tactical Air Support civilian-owned CF-5D aggressor landed as well, to join one other CF-5D and F-5E parked on their ramp. After the 4 Eagles landed, we returned to the Operations building.
Tactical Air Support
Tactical Air Support hosts a small detachment of aircraft at Kingsley Field, and operates F-5AT Advanced Tiger and Canadair CF-5D aircraft in the adversary role. They work with the 173rd FW, providing “red air“ support to train F-15 pilots. While I was at Kingsley Field, I saw an F-5AT and a CF-5D taxi out for the morning mission, and in the afternoon, an additional CF-5D landed.
You can read about Tactical Air Support at Kingsley Field HERE
David R. Kingsley Anniversary Eagle
One of the highlights I was looking forward to on my visit was seeing F-15C Eagle 78-0543, which was unveiled in January 2020 wearing an incredibly special paint scheme in memory of David R. Kingsley. The airport is named in his honor, and he lost his life in a B-17 Flying Fortress bomber crash in Bulgaria in June 1944. You can read more about him HERE.
I have included some additional links to articles about the jet:
F-15C Eagle Heritage Jet
173rd Fighter Wing dedicates new F-15 flagship
Edwards AFB lends Kingsley Field hand in historic project
WWII Vet brings history to 173rd Fighter Wing
The jet was in the hangar for some maintenance work, and made it a bit of a challenge to get photos, but Brian was very accommodating and suggested different angles etc. This is where shooting in RAW really helped me bring out the exposure on some shots. I was very pleased to see the amazing work and tribute to Kingsley. The artwork inside the tails is especially impressive, with Kingsley and Crater Lake below him. Crater Lake is a gorgeous lake and National Park, located about 90 minutes north of Klamath Falls. I visited there on the day before my visit at the suggestion of Axe, and it was well worth it! Interestingly, this jet also used to be based at Barnes Air National Guard Base, Massachusetts, and the 104th FW.
The 173rd FW has a beautiful display of 3 static aircraft, with nicely manicured landscape, which also includes a display in memory of David R. Kingsley, that has a section of the B-17 Flying Fortress that he perished in, which was recovered in Bulgaria. The aircraft on display are an F-15A Eagle, F-4C Phantom and F-16A Fighting Falcon. Additionally, there is an F-15C Eagle tail wearing the special artwork from their previous color jet – you can read more HERE. I also included a photo of an F-16A Fighting Falcon on display at the Medford Airport.
Special thanks to Jenn for ending the day on a high note strolling through the displays and admiring such a nice set up.
The Future – F-15EX Eagle II
Unlike my visit with Maintenance, I did not really get a chance to discuss the F-15EX with Operations, other than some high-level information with Hog, which included budgets, which units would eventually the aircraft, etc.
You can read about the announcement HERE.
Afternoon portion/visit concludes
After walking through the aircraft static park, my amazing and productive visit concluded. I hope the 2 articles give some insight into the tremendous work and contributions by the 173rd Fighter Wing.
Again, I cannot thank Team Kingsley enough for their support, hospitality and dedication and service to our country!