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173rd Fighter Wing Deploys Aircraft and Personnel to Florida

Members of the 173rd Fighter Wing in Klamath Falls, Ore. reboard a Navy C-9 aircraft out of Whidbey Naval Air Station, Wash. after a stop in Owensboro, Ky. for fuel.  The personnel left Kingsley Field earlier in the morning and continued on to Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla. Via Oceana, Md. March 18, 2011. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Jefferson Thompson) RELEASED

Members of the 173rd Fighter Wing in Klamath Falls, Ore. reboard a Navy C-9 aircraft out of Whidbey Naval Air Station, Wash. after a stop in Owensboro, Ky. for fuel. The personnel left Kingsley Field earlier in the morning and continued on to Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla. Via Oceana, Md. March 18, 2011. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Jefferson Thompson) RELEASED

Staff Sgt. David Evinger, a 173rd Fighter Wing Crew Chief waves out an F-15 piloted by Lt. Col. Chris “Gump” Morton  during flight exercises at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla. March 22, 2011.  Kingsley pilots are working with F-22 Raptor students to introduce them to combat with dissimilar aircraft in the skies over the Florida panhandle.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Jefferson Thompson) RELEASED

Staff Sgt. David Evinger, a 173rd Fighter Wing Crew Chief waves out an F-15 piloted by Lt. Col. Chris “Gump” Morton during flight exercises at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla. March 22, 2011. Kingsley pilots are working with F-22 Raptor students to introduce them to combat with dissimilar aircraft in the skies over the Florida panhandle. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Jefferson Thompson) RELEASED

A 114th Fighter Squadron jet roars down the Tyndall AFB runway in afterburner during air exercises at Tyndall AFB, Fla. March 22, 2011. The Kingsley aircraft participated in dissimilar combat training with F-22 Raptor students for the third week in March.  Next week they are scheduled to participate in the Weapons Systems Evaluation Program (WSEP) where pilots will fire live air-to-air missles at unmanned drones over the Gulf of Mexico. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Jefferson Thompson) RELEASED

A 114th Fighter Squadron jet roars down the Tyndall AFB runway in afterburner during air exercises at Tyndall AFB, Fla. March 22, 2011. The Kingsley aircraft participated in dissimilar combat training with F-22 Raptor students for the third week in March. Next week they are scheduled to participate in the Weapons Systems Evaluation Program (WSEP) where pilots will fire live air-to-air missles at unmanned drones over the Gulf of Mexico. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Jefferson Thompson) RELEASED

TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- Six F-15 aircraft and nearly 100 personnel made their way from Kingsley Field in Klamath Falls, Ore. across the country to the Florida panhandle in support of F-22 flying operations at Tyndall Air Force Base in Panama City, March 18, 2011.

"We found out we were going to come down here about 45 days prior to kickoff," said Capt. Tyler "Tiny" Cox, the project officer responsible for coordinating the deployment.

"Ordinarily we'd have six months to get a deployment like this planned but with the cancellation of Sentry Down Under in Australia we had a much tighter schedule," he added.

The reason for the trip is two-fold; first this is a chance to support the F-22 training program at Tyndall, and second is an opportunity for Kingsley pilots to participate in the Weapons System Evaluation Program (WSEP) where pilots will fire live missiles at unmanned drones over the Gulf of Mexico.

For the first several days Kingsley pilots simulated adversary aircraft allowing the new Raptor pilots an opportunity to develop the skills needed to detect and engage them.

Cox mentions that one difficulty of playing the adversary role against a fifth generation fighter is the long eye of ultra-modern radar.

"The hard part is they can see us long before we can see them," said Cox, with a smile on his face.

Tyndall is the sole provider for F-22 training, as Kingsley is for the F-15, and the deployment provides an opportunity for the two to practice air dominance.

In order to make that possible, there are a number of hurdles for the deployed maintenance troops to keep the jets flying.

Operating six fighter aircraft nearly 3,000 miles from home-station is a challenge in and of itself. Furthering the complications, Tyndall no longer flies F-15 aircraft so the Kingsley maintenance staff has to anticipate what might break and bring any necessary spare parts along. Considering the space constraints on the airlift, only critical items can be brought.

Each shop assesses the risk to their respective systems and processes on the aircraft, said Chief Master Sgt. Andy Gauntz, the maintenance chief. In the past we've had special spare parts kits for deployment, now we don't have them--so we use our parts on hand. We also use some creative cannibalization from other aircraft awaiting maintenance to make sure we have ready spare parts without having to order them through the normal supply system which can take several days or more.

As of Tuesday, 173rd FW maintainers have put up 13 sorties and will continue at the rate of nine scheduled per day.

"We got 'em all up in the air," said Gauntz.

The Kingsley jets will fly with the F-22s until Thursday, and will then set up a static display for the annual Tyndall air show, followed by WSEP next week.