America’s Air Superiority Starts Here: Land of NO SLACK
173rd Fighter Wing – Oregon Air National Guard
Kingsley Field Klamath Falls, Oregon
America’s Air Superiority Starts Here ;
Land of NO SLACK
Part 1: Maintenance
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 also allowing me to shadow and get photos and ask questions
• Security Forces at the main gate, for a friendly, professional and seamless entry
Maintenance and Flight Line
Upon arriving on base, my escort for the morning, Brian from Maintenance, greeted me at the front gate. We proceeded to Public Affairs to meet with SMSgt Jennifer Shirar, to go over the plans for the day. The first impression I had as I travelled through the base was how nice and clean it was. The tan buildings fit nicely into the southern Oregon high desert landscape. Second thing I noticed was the friendliness of the people! The motto of the unit is “Land of NO SLACK”, and I was immediately seeing that mindset.
Jenn welcomed me and discussed the day’s plans with Brian, and offered her help to make my visit a success. Axe was not present, as he was deployed, but had told me I “would be in good hands” with whomever I was working with. I knew exactly what he meant after the briefing.
Once that was complete, Brian and I went over to the huge maintenance hangar around 815 AM. I emphasized to both Brian and Jenn, that I wanted to showcase the maintainers, as they often don’t get the recognition they deserve. The 173rd FW is allocated 32 F-15C/D Eagles. The hangar was mostly full of them and was already buzzing with activity. The average age of the F-15 Eagles assigned is around 40 years old, much older than most of the skilled maintainers that work tirelessly to keep them operable.
Included in the hangar was their beautiful anniversary jet, in honor of David R. Kingsley. I was so pleased to get to see it in person.
Brian gave me some guidelines of what I could and could not take pictures of, but whenever in doubt, I would always ask. I immediately started taking photos of the anniversary jet, as it was undergoing maintenance, and not sure if it would be moved any time soon. We proceeded around the hangar as I took photos of the maintainers working on various parts of the many jets. I really appreciated them allowing me to shadow a bit and photograph them while working.
After working through both sides of the hangar, we proceeded outside around 845 AM. The flight line was already busy with maintainers prepping the jets for the morning launch. The weather was sunny and perfect. We walked up and down between the jets as I took photos of the airmen tending to the aircraft. Once the pilots started to arrive, I wanted to stay in one spot as I know once the jets start up, one doesn’t want to be moving around a lot. Having both camera bodies out with wide angle and long lenses, I was able to get close shots but also ones across the ramp of the other jets and maintainers.
30 minutes quickly passed and around 915 AM the jets taxied out to the end of the runway. They soon took off as we walked back, knowing I would capture a full launch in the afternoon. It was time to see more of the maintenance operations. Everyone from the hangar to the flight line was very accommodating and welcoming of my presence.
We proceeded to the Engine Shop, which was wall to wall with Pratt and Whitney jet engines in various levels of repair or staging. Many maintainers were working on the engines, and I proceeded to take photos as they obliged and kept focusing on their high-tech work. Seeing a jet engine up close, out of the aircraft, is amazing. Lots of aircraft artwork adorned their shop walls to show their pride. Thanks to that team for sharing their time with me.
After 20 minutes in the engine shop, we moved onto the Hydraulic Shop.
The Hydraulic Shop is one area of maintenance I have not seen before and is obviously critical to function of the fleet. The shop is situated in the former fire station, and has various parts meticulously laid out ready to be put into a jet or continued to be worked on. A row of many workstations with large computer screens assists maintainers looking at diagrams of parts while working. I appreciate that team taking the time to describe their function and layout of their tools and equipment.
Brian had gotten word that a number 1 fuel cell was being replaced in a jet, and suggested we go check that out. Again, a function I have seen before and I was excited to head to Fuel Cell Maintenance. It was a long walk, but the weather was nice and it allowed Brian and I to talk about various things.
Fuel Cell Maintenance
Upon arrival at FCM, we had to place our mobile phones in a basket in the office area, before proceeding into the hangar. There was F-15D Eagle, 85-0133, a former 104th FW / Barnes jet (which I did not even realize until we were getting ready to leave), having its number one fuel cell being replaced. I was immediately invited up the stairs to get a closer look. The fuel cell is immediately behind the cockpit and is a large bladder. A young maintainer, Casey, was inside the cavity for the fuel cell with just her head sticking out, which was again, something I had never seen before. I started taking pics after I asked permission, and they were more than happy and invited me even closer. Casey needed to go fully inside the cavity, and she had to put on her breathing apparatus for safety. I really appreciated the whole team being so friendly and taking time out to show me what was happening.
At this point, Brian and I left to head back to his office. He took me to meet Lieutenant Colonel Micah Lambert, the maintenance group commander. It was nice to see and meet the top leadership of the incredible maintenance organization!
The Future – F-15EX Eagle II
Throughout the visit with maintenance, whenever I could, I would ask about the new F-15EX and plans for it to be delivered to the 173rd FW beginning 2024, and how it might impact a certain function. For example, and there are many unanswered questions – would there be a transition phase of having F-15C/D Eagles alongside the F-15EX, engine maintenance change over, with at least first F-15EXs having General Electric engines, etc. It will be interesting to see how the plans for the F-15EX progress.
You can read about the announcement here.
Morning portion concludes
This ended the morning portion of my visit, and Brian handed me off to Operations to plan out the afternoon and have lunch. Look for Part 2 of my visit which will feature the 114th FS / 550th FS, flight line, take offs, landings, Tactical Air Support civilian aggressors, anniversary jet and the planes on display!