173rd FW beats storm, flies in Arizona
By Master Sgt. Jefferson Thompson, 173rd Fighter Wing
/ Published February 05, 2020
TUCSON, Ariz. -- Just ahead of the heaviest winter storm of the season, a contingent of 173rd Fighter Wing Airmen and F-15-C aircraft made their way to warmer climes for continued flying operations.
Nearly 90 Airmen and five F-15-C aircraft traveled over 1,000 miles to the 162nd Fighter Wing in Tucson, Arizona, for dissimilar air combat training, or DACT.
The two wings have been flying together for years and take advantage of complimentary weather in both summer and winter. Kingsley Field makes this trip in the winter when flying in the southern tier is optimal, and the 162nd FW makes its way north in the summer when excessive heat can keep aircraft on the ground.
“It’s incredibly beneficial for us because the weather back in Kingsley is not particularly awesome; last week namely we didn’t turn a single wheel but down here we flew 16 sorties,” said Capt. Joshua Prochaska, the project officer for the trip. Although Klamath Falls boasts excellent flying weather with 300 days of sunshine a year, there are times like this week where snowfall limits flying until the runway is cleared and operations resume.
The trip also provides significant benefit to the Tucson unit.
“It’s also great for them because they get to fight with a dissimilar platform, most of their training is basically F-16 versus F-16 so with us they get to fight eagles,” he said.
The 162nd Fighter Wing’s mission is to train aspiring F-16 drivers, which is a counterpart to the Kingsley Field mission of training F-15 Eagle pilots. When other units visit it is welcome because we free up more cockpits to fly students.
“It provides them with the opportunity to fly more lines because we are flying the adversary air portion of the sortie for them,” or in other words the simulated “bad guy” normally flown by an instructor pilot in a unit F-16. “So they can turn more sorties with us here,” said Prochaska.
Long known as a haven from the wintry mix of the northern tier, Arizona provides excellent winter flying and an unsurprising respite for the Airmen who made the trip.
“The best part honestly, the weather down here is fantastic, low 70s and sunny almost every single day,” said Prochaska. He also said it’s a good time to rub shoulders with other Airmen who you don’t usually interface with on a daily basis.
And although everyone enjoyed the mild weather another, there is another compelling reason for this travel and other trips the wing makes. In an increasingly expeditionary Air Force the skills required to pick up operations and fly need sharpening. For maintainers this trip required careful planning and packing to try and anticipate what issues might arise for the jets. Aircrew flight equipment had to pack everything necessary for outfitting pilots with safety and survival gear and organizers had to plan for room and board for nearly 90 people—all things that wartime taskings require.
“It’s been amazing for us to come down here and do everything so seamlessly I just think it speaks to the work ethic of a lot of people in this unit that we’re able to do this in such a smooth and timely fashion,” he added. “It’s been an outstanding experience.”