173rd FW deploys to Florida for missile live-fire training

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Jefferson Thompson
  • 173rd Fighter Wing

Nearly 120 Airmen and six F-15C Eagles from the 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 were ready to fly; and with is 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 safe, inspect, and handle live, forward-firing munitions, an experience far different than handling inert training munitions.”

WSEP is also an inspection, and Cooper’s 16 Airmen passed 30 different specific inspections without a single write-up. They loaded nine missiles and each of them fired exactly as planned.

Cooper added that the WSEP inspectors lauded the efficiency of Kingsley’s weapons Airmen.

“Achieving a 100-percent 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 added. 

Manfull explained that “as a team, we accomplished something that will be hard to duplicate; we were scheduled to fly 56 sorties but we were actually able to generate 60 sorties through line increases, even while battling a multitude of 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. However, when one considers all the variables from airlift across the country, the effect of totally different weather on older airframes which transited the entire continental U.S. the day prior to the main contingent and the number of moving parts involved, it represents a cohesive effort on many fronts.

Stacey summed up the trip in retrospect saying, “The most satisfying part of the experience was watching everyone come together, motivated for Kingsley’s success, and seeing them deliver.”