PANAMA CITY, Fla. - Nearly 120 Airmen and six F-15C Eagles from the Oregon Air National Guard’s 173rd Fighter Wing traveled to Tyndall Air Force Base in the Florida panhandle to train with live missiles over the Gulf of Mexico March 9-23.
Called the Weapons Systems Evaluation Program, or WSEP, fighter units from around the country make the trip for the valuable training.
“WSEP provides our pilots an opportunity to fire live missiles, and most importantly, it lets us train all of our capabilities leading up to that moment,” said Lt. Col. Tyler Cox, the 114th Fighter Squadron commander.
Senior Master Sgt. Ryan Manfull, the production superintendent for the trip, ensured the aircraft arrived on time and ready to fly and — with a team of maintainers — made sure they stayed that way for the duration of the trip.
“There are a lot of moving pieces to make a TDY happen,” he said. “Having limited resources, parts and equipment, it takes everyone working together in an ‘all-hands-on-deck’ work environment to make the mission happen off-station.”
The most visible piece of the mission is “ready, ready, fox” — the moment a pilot touches off an air-to-air missile and communicates it over the radio.
“That moment represents the efforts of 118 Kingsley Airmen getting the jets here, building and loading the missiles and keeping the jets flying for the two-week duration, something they did exceptionally well,” said Cox.
For the Airmen of the weapons element, it was a step closer to their mission in the battle space.
“Attending the Weapons System Evaluation Program gives the weapons element the ability to showcase what we train to do in a combat environment,” said Chief Master Sgt. Michael Cooper, the 173rd Fighter Wing weapons manager. “It provides our load crews a chance to ... handle live, forward-firing munitions, an experience far different than handling inert training munitions.”
WSEP is also an inspection. Cooper’s 16 Airmen passed 30 specific inspections without a single write-up. They loaded nine missiles, and each fired as planned.
“Achieving a 100% missile fire rate not only shows the proficiency of our load crews but the reliability and high standards we maintain on the aging F-15C/D weapons system,” he said.
Manfull said the team was scheduled to fly 56 sorties but generated 60 despite various aircraft maintenance issues.
For the uninitiated, it seems perhaps anti-climactic that this mission went off without a hitch, observed Senior Master Sgt. Randy Stacey, the deployment maintenance chief. But considering the effect of totally different weather on older airframes that transited the entire continental U.S. the day before the main contingent and the number of moving parts involved, it represents a cohesive effort on many fronts.
“The most satisfying part of the experience was watching everyone come together, motivated for Kingsley’s success, and seeing them deliver,” Stacey said.