Story and photos by Mike Colaner
“We wanted something that just screamed America,” MSgt Landon Tompkins.
I have come to Fresno, California, home of the 144th Fighter Wing (FW) of the California Air National Guard, as a guest of the 144th FW Public Affairs Office’s CMSgt Christoper Drudge. I was introduced to MSgt Tompkins of the 144th Maintenance Squadron (MXS) about their latest creation. MSgt Tompkins shared the background on F-15C (85-113) and the inspiration for the design. He explained that Lieutenant Colonel Cesar Gonzalez, the 144th Maintenance Group Vice Commander, recognized that ‘113’ went over ten thousand (10K) hours and that we should recognize that milestone.
MSgt Tompkins estimates that only five other F-15Cs have reached this milestone and are still actively serving.
I asked MSgt Tompkins what were your orders were when you were authorized to create this project. He explained Colonel Gonzalez issued only one order to us, “GO BIG!” The patriotic scheme seemed appropriate to recognize that it was also the seventy-fifth Anniversary of the United States Air Force.
There has been much speculation about the aircraft’s name, including several publications naming it themselves. However, I asked the creator MSgt Tompkins what it is called, and he replied, “Heritage 2.0.” This will become clearer as this is not the first F-15C in the 144th FW to receive a special heritage paint scheme.
Heritage is described as tradition, an inherited legacy, or a birthright. The California Air National Guard’s 144th Fighter Wing (FW) heritage is traced back to a Griffin known as “Ole Leroy’ who still adorns one of their F-86 Sabre that has been preserved in their airpark. The 144th FW is well known for putting its heritage front and center in the form of the mythical Griffin.
In 2018 the 144th FW unveiled a unique paint scheme on F-15C (84-004) to celebrate the squadron’s 75th Anniversary (to include their founding as the 372nd Fighter Group in 1943). The creation was dubbed ‘Heritage.’ It features a colorful fire-breathing Griffin along the fuselage. The twin tails adorn the California state flag crest on the outside. At the same time, inside, there is a 75-year shield featuring the unit’s aircraft silhouettes with Ole Leroy and a map of California with a star representing Fresno. The engine intakes are adorned with badges for both the 144th FW and 194th Fighter Squadron (FS). MSgt Tompkins explained that the scheme was only supposed to last eighteen months. However, it is still going strong after four years.
The 144th FW McDonnell Douglas F-15C / D Eagles are adorned with the imagery of the fierce, bold mythical creature with a lion’s body and an eagle’s head and wings. The Griffin symbolizes strength, courage, intelligence, and leadership.
With his orders in place, MSgt Tompkins began to sketch out his vision. He explained that he didn’t want a realistic waving American flag because of all the curves and angles on the aircraft, which is why he went for the straight fields of red, white, and blue. When asked where he found his inspiration, MSgt Tompkins said the idea behind the paint scheme was Heritage. Not just our Heritage in the 144th FW but America’s Heritage.
The 144th Fighter Wings heritage is represented on 85-113 by the Griffin incorporated into the design. With its talons extended, the Griffin adorns the forward fuselage on both sides of the aircraft. The black body continues across the top to the tails and underneath to the engines. The twin tails display the 144th FW coat of arms, the California state flag crest, and a commemoration of the United States Air Force’s 75th Anniversary. Both intakes are adorned with a unique 144th FW F-15 logo designed to commemorate 85-0113’s 10K hours with the motto, Peace Through Air Dominance. The speed brake is decorated with 10K to represent the ten thousand hour milestone 85-113 achieved.
Ten thousand flight hours is a significant accomplishment for an aircraft initially designed for only 4,000 hours. The F-15Cs were first delivered in 1979 and are still serving today. They were intended to be replaced by seven hundred fifty F-22s that the Air Force wanted. Eventually, with only one hundred ninety-five Raptors (eight test aircraft and one hundred eighty-seven production) built, the F-15C could not be retired as planned. Through the service life extensions program (SLEP), the active and National Guard components have kept this undefeated (104-0) air combat legend flying.
Four hundred-eight F-15Cs were delivered to the United States Air Force (USAF). F-15C 85-113 was the 355th C model built for the USAF. This aircraft was first assigned to and served the longest with the 33rd FW at Eglin AFB, Florida. It also served with the 19th FS at Elmendorf AFB Alaska until the unit was disbanded in 2010. It was then transferred to the 104th FW of the Massachusetts ANG and eventually onto the 144th FW of the California ANG. The known history of this aircraft shows that it deployed to Keflavik, Iceland, multiple times, as well as the Netherlands and Norway during its lifetime. However, the service history for 85-113 is incomplete. It is known to have served with the 33rd FW during the following conflicts and likely deployed for Operation Just Cause in Panama and Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm in Saudi Arabia.
I must thank and acknowledge the 144th FW MXS personnel instrumental in creating the ‘Heritage 2.0’ project. In addition to MSgt Landon Tompkins, there were also TSgt Joshua Canfield, TSgt Jeff Lusk, TSgt Jennifer Horton, SSgt Vincent Parrino, SSgt Joshua Kampling, SrA Ivan Rodriguez, SrA Benjamin Spiva, SrA Omar Mohamed-Hassan, SrA Jordan Garcia..
I also wish to acknowledge the assistance of CMSgt Christopher Drudge and SSgt Mercedes Taylor, without whose cooperation, this wouldn’t have been possible.
Follow the 144th FW on Facebook www.facebook.com/144thFighterWing/, and Instagram @144thfighterwing.
Thanks to the USAF 6th Air Refueling Squadron, Travis AFB, for the air-to-air photo of 85-113