F-22 Raptors from the 27th Fighter Squadron and an F-35A Lightning II from the 34th Fighter Generation Squadron came together at the Savannah Air National Guard Base, Ga., for the first William Tell Fighter Competition in nearly 20 years. Senior Airman Zachary Rufus
Photo Caption & Credits


Oct. 5, 2023

William Tell Fighter Competition Returns

By Greg Hadley and David Roza

The Air Force’s revived William Tell Air-to-Air Weapons Meet wrapped up last week, the first edition of the prestigious fighter competition in nearly 20 years—and a select group of Airmen walked away with some trophies. 

From Sept. 11-15, William Tell featured some of the best air crews from across the service testing their offensive and defensive skills against simulated enemy aircraft, while ground crews competed in loading weapons, aircraft maintenance, and intelligence operations. 

Fourteen different teams and individuals won awards at the meet’s closing ceremonies on Sept. 15 at the Air Dominance Center in Savannah, Ga. Air Combat Command identified the wings of the winners but declined to publicly identify individuals, citing operational security. 

The team awards included categories for the three types of aircraft competing—F-15, F-22, and F-35—as well as one—the Major Richard I. Bong Fighter Interceptor Trophy—for individual teams that demonstrated the best fighter integration across multiple platforms and systems: 

  • Major Richard I. Bong Fighter Interceptor Trophy: 3rd Wing (F-22s), 366th Fighter Wing (F-15Es), 388th and 419th Fighter Wings (F-35s) 
  • Lieutenant Colonel James H. Harvey III Top F-15 Wing Award: 104th Fighter Wing, Barnes Air National Guard Base, Mass. 
  • Captain Eddie Rickenbacker Top F-22 Wing Award: 1st Fighter Wing, Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va. 
  • Brigadier General Robin Olds Top F-35 Wing Award: 158th Fighter Wing, Burlington Air National Guard Base, Vt. 
  • Colonel Jesse C. Williams Top Intel Tradecraft Wing Award: 1st Fighter Wing, Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va. 
  • Big I Task Force Top C2 Wing: 552nd Air Control Wing, Tinker Air Force Base, Okla. 
  • Chief Master Sergeant Argol “Pete” Lisse Maintenance Team Award: 1st Fighter Wing, Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va. 
  • Overall Weapons Load Competition: 104th Fighter Wing, Barnes Air National Guard Base, Mass. 
  • The individual awards recognized the top crew chiefs and pilots from each aircraft type: 
  • Top F-15 Crew Chief: 366th Fighter Wing, Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho 
  • Top F-22 Crew Chief: 1st Fighter Wing, Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va. 
  • Top F-35 Crew Chief: 158th Fighter Wing, Burlington Air National Guard Base, Vt. 
  • F-15 Superior Performer: 104th Fighter Wing, Barnes Air National Guard Base, Mass. 
  • F-22 Superior Performer: 3rd Wing, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska 
  • F-35 Superior Performer: 158th Fighter Wing, Burlington Air National Guard Base, Vt. 

Overall, the 1st Fighter Wing at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., emerged as the big winner from the competition, capturing four trophies.  

The 104th Fighter Wing at Barnes Air National Guard Base, Mass., also took home three wins, including the overall weapons load competition, a head-to-head contest against crews with other types of aircraft. That competition took place in front of a large crowd including distinguished visitors on Sept. 14. 

Don’t Let the Wing Down

Capt. Andrew ‘Pañic’ Munoz was in a tight spot. The F-15E Strike Eagle pilot and his weapons system operator, Capt. George ‘King’ Welton, had run out of air-to-air missiles 15 minutes into a simulated battle where they had to defend a lane of airspace against a mix of F-22s, F-16s, and other jets flying adversary ‘red air’ tactics.

Though the battle was not real, the stakes were high, as Munoz and Welton were representing the entire 4th Fighter Wing in a competition against other fighter units from across the Air Force. If they failed here, it might affect their standings for the rest of the meet.

But then, like an old-fashioned cavalry charge, help arrived in the form of Capts. Noel ‘Takeout’ Zamot and Sean ‘Wolf’ Sutedjo, who took off 15 minutes late after swapping jets due to an aircraft malfunction. The fresh crew arrived with a full set of missiles, and while they lacked a data link providing situational awareness of the battle, they worked together with Munoz and Welton to take down the opposing jets and eventually win the scenario.

“We were able to work as a team between the two-ship to use their missiles and provide them with the awareness that they needed in order to target and protect the lane,” Munoz told Air & Space Forces Magazine.

The late arrival of Zamot and Sutedjo was just one memorable moment from the William Tell Air-to-Air Weapons Meet, where Air Force fighter crews, maintainers, and intelligence specialists from Virginia to Hawaii gathered at the Air Dominance Center in Savannah, Ga., from Sept. 11-15 to see who was the best in the air-to-air business.

A historic meet, William Tell was held about every two years from 1954 to 1996 but was discontinued with the exception of a 2004 revival to commemorate the contest’s 50th anniversary. The Air Force’s renewed focus on near-peer conflict in contested airspace was a major reason for bringing the contest back. But after a 19-year hiatus, many pilots today had never heard of William Tell.

An Airman wears a William Tell 2023 patch at the Air Dominance Center located at the Savannah Air National Guard Base in Savannah, Ga. ACC/Facebook

“When my squadron commander walked up to me in April and said ‘We want to send you to William Tell and we want you to build a team,’ I had to say ‘What is William Tell?’ Munoz said. “Learning the history of William Tell made me realize that this was bigger than myself, bigger than the team.”

The meet included one-on-one basic fighter maneuvers (BFM); air combat maneuvering (ACM), where two-ships of ‘Blue Air’ identified and engaged unfamiliar red air jets; a gunnery contest where participants shot their aircraft cannons at a banner towed by a Learjet; and fighter integration, where participants worked together to defend an airspace against formations of red air. 

Meanwhile, maintainers competed to see who could safely load missiles onto an aircraft fastest, while intelligence Airmen conducted mission planning and threat analysis on the ground and air battle managers worked on command and control from overhead. Meet planners warned that competition was the best way to simulate combat stress, but Munoz, who has flown on several deployments, was skeptical at first.

“Fast-forward to being at the step desk before going to fly and I had this pit in my stomach … I don’t want to let my team down, I don’t want to let the wing down, and I don’t want to let myself down really,” he recalled. “It made me a believer.”

Most of the 4th Fighter Wing contingent came from the ‘Chiefs’ of the 335th Fighter Squadron, where the goal is to achieve ‘the chief standard’ of excellence—and for the most part they hit the mark. The team performed well in ACM and BFM, where, despite being the youngest fliers on the team, Zamot and Sutedjo defeated a more experienced crew. They also flew well in the fighter integration event, where the Strike crews showed their expertise in defensive counter-air (DCA). But the ‘integration’ piece was easier said than done.

“We have great tactics, techniques, and procedures for executing our own DCA, but mixing that in with two different other aircraft was definitely a challenge, especially with the limited amount of time that we had to mission plan for it,” Zamot said.

There were two other F-15 units at the meet, the 366th Fighter Wing flying F-15Es from Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, and the 104th Fighter Wing flying F-15Cs from Barnes Air National Guard Base, Mass. The 4th bested the 366th, but the Air Guardsmen claimed the overall top F-15 Wing and Superior Performer award. Though they went back to Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C., empty-handed, the Airmen from the 4th were still proud of their performance.

“I think that we executed to the chief standard when we went down to Savannah,” Zamot said. “Every event that we showed up to, we were the premier Strike Eagles down there, and we beat two F-35 squadrons” in the overall scores.

They also stuck together as a team: Zamot said the 4th Fighter Wing maintainers had the loudest group of fans in the building during the weapons load competition, where the 4th defeated the 366th. Competition aside, the meet was also a chance to build connections among Eagle pilots, especially as the older C models retire and the new F-15EX editions come online.

“After the results were released, we had all of the Eagle dudes together and had about a two-and-a-half hour tactics talk, which was awesome,” Munoz said. “We got to talk through how we are merging the community together for the future. Those crews will go back to their base and spread the knowledge that we shared.”

Air Combat Command, which ran the competition, brought in retired Lt. Col. James Harvey III, a Tuskegee Airman who in 1949 won the first ever trophy in what would later become William Tell. Seeing Harvey there, along with an impressive number of colonels and generals, brought the significance of William Tell to life.

“I hope that we bring it back so that we can continue the legacy of William Tell,” Munoz said.