PORTLAND, Ore. – The 142nd Wing started as an observation squadron with a fighter group, then a fighter wing, and now a wing. It has harnessed different aircraft, from the P-51 to the F-15C Eagle. And, coming around fiscal 2025, the 142nd Wing is to receive the new F15-EX.
To prepare the base and its Airmen to bring in the new fighter, the base has a dedicated conversion team of four experts, with many working groups under them. This team will determine what changes are needed to prepare for new structures and equipment and, most importantly, training the Airmen will need.
"The whole purpose of the conversion team is to help the base transition in a seamless manner," said Lt. Col. Nathan Rice, the unit conversion officer and a seasoned fighter pilot.
The team is working with Test and Evaluation at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, as they will be the first unit to receive the EX. They are also in contact with representatives at the National Guard Bureau, Air Combat Command, and Boeing to discuss monetary needs for new structures and equipment. In addition to the hardware changes, this new Eagle will potentially change how much personnel the base will need.
All members involved are hoping the transition will be smooth.
"The F-15EX is almost 90 percent compatible with the F-15C model," said Rice. "We want to convert as soon as possible, so we're a usable wing to the Air Force."
The team hopes the conversion will be a quick turnaround so pilots and maintainers can keep the mission going without shutting anything down. Boeing has said the training for pilots on the F-15EX should be minimal. The maintainers will receive onsite training once jets start to arrive, but some will likely go to another base.
"Maintaining the F-15C has become difficult, and our people are wearing out," said Rice.
Chief Master Sergeant Norio Colipano, in charge of the maintenance side of the conversion team, said maintainers are excited about the change but they know it's going to come with some adapting.
"People have to work very hard to maintain this aging aircraft," said Colipano, noting that the C model came out in the '70s. "The replacement parts just aren't being supported."
Colipano is concerned that maintenance could be working on two types of engines. They use Pratt & Whitney engines now, but the new jet could come with General Electric engines.
It's not clear yet how many EX jets the Portland Air National Guard Base will receive. The Air Force has to decide how many new jets will go to Kingsley Field Air National Guard Base in Southern Oregon, where pilots train on F-15s first.
"We want to get into this conversion running instead of crawling or walking, so we're trying to prepare our people in the operations and maintenance groups now," said Colipano.