F-15E Maintainers Ready to ‘Show Why We Are the Best’ at William Tell Fighter Meet

Editor’s Note: This is the second in a two-part series previewing the return of the William Tell Air-to-Air Weapons Meet next week. The first part, on the pilots preparing for William Tell, is available here.

Next week, some of the best aircrews, maintainers, and intelligence Airmen from across the Air Force will gather at the Air Dominance Center in Savannah, Ga., for the William Tell Air-to-Air Weapons Meet, a prestigious fighter competition last held in 2004. While the pilots battle in the sky, maintainers will face off to determine who is the best weapons load crew in the service.

“This is definitely a big deal for us, because it hasn’t been done in so long,” said Staff Sgt. Jashaunn Jasper, a maintainer with the 4th Fighter Wing out of Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C., which flies F-15E Strike Eagles. Even being selected to compete is an accomplishment, Jasper told Air & Space Forces Magazine, and now he and his team get to “go down and show why we are the best.”

To succeed in a weapon load competition, teams must strike a fine balance between speed and accuracy, which means following all the technical and safety procedures in the multi-step process of uploading complicated weapons. At William Tell, the F-15E load crews will hang four AMRAAM radar-guided air-to-air missiles and two Sidewinder infrared-guided air-to-air missiles.  At any time in the load, evaluators deduct points for technical or safety deviations.

Each team has three people: a ‘one-man’ who leads the effort; a ‘two-man’ who prepares the racks and rails on the aircraft where the weapons will hang, and a ‘three-man’ who drives the jammer, a tiny lift truck for carrying weapons, and loads the weapons on to the plane with the help of the ‘one-man.’

The 4th Fighter Wing team, with Jasper as the one-man, Senior Airman Grace Forgey as the two-man, and Senior Airman Aaron Woods as the three-man, has had plenty of practice working together over the past few years.

“We have chemistry because we’ve been working together for a while now,” said Woods. “It helps knowing what this person is supposed to do and what that person is supposed to do.”

Senior Airman Cassandra Romero, center, 333rd Fighter Generation Squadron weapons load crew member, lines up an unarmed practice AGM-158 JASSM munition to load it onto an F-15E Strike Eagle as Staff Sgt. Alexandro Diaz, right, 4th Maintenance Group loading standardization crew member, evaluates her during a weapons standardization load evaluation at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina, June 9, 2023. U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Christopher Hubenthal.

That chemistry paid off when the team, which belongs to the 335th Fighter Generation Squadron, competed against load crews from the three other fighter generation squadrons in the 4th Maintenance Group for the chance to represent the wing at William Tell. 

“It was a little bit intense … since we were pretty much going up against the best in the unit,” said Woods, who noted that just a few seconds separated the winners at a past contest.

Many weapon load competitions stay within a fighter wing, but at William Tell, the 4th Fighter Wing crew will take on crews from the 366th Fighter Wing, which flies F-15Es out of Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho; and the 104th Fighter Wing, which flies F-15 C/D Eagles out of Barnes Air National Guard Base, Mass. The winner of that contest will then face the best F-35 Lightning II and F-22 Raptor load crews to figure out who is the best in the Air Force.

“Hopefully we’ll dominate that competition the first day so we can go on to compete against the other aircraft,” Jasper said.

There will be awards for top weapons crew overall and top weapons load per aircraft, and the attached bragging rights for each. Jasper and Woods are not alone in wanting to be the best: Capt. Andrew “PAÑIC” Munoz, one of the pilots representing the 4th Fighter Wing at the meet, is looking to do the same in the cockpit.

“Ultimately the goal is to win,” he said in an Aug. 14 press release. “I want to win, so that the 4th FW is named No. 1 in the air dominance category. It’ll show everybody that the F-15E is combat air power.”

An F-15E Strike Eagle takes off from Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina, Dec. 14, 2022. U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Rebecca Sirimarco-Lang.

The fighters will compete in one-on-one basic fighter maneuvers; two-on-two air combat maneuvering; and ‘fighter integration’ where the various jets flown by different teams (F-35s, F-22 Raptors, F-15C/D Eagles, F-15E Strike Eagles, and command and control aircraft) work together to take out visiting ‘Red Air’ adversary units. 

The teams who work together best will receive the Maj. Richard I. Bong Fighter Integration Award, named after the top American flying ace in World War II. There will also be awards for the top wings in each fighter category, as well as functional awards for command and control, maintenance, weapons loading, intelligence tradecraft, and “superior individual performers.”

Fans can track the action by following scoreboard announcements posted each evening on social media, according to a July 27 press release.

The return of William Tell is a boon for Air Force fighter culture. The contest was held more or less every two years from 1954 to 1996 but dropped off for good after a 2004 revival to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first contest. USAF’s renewed focus on China as a peer adversary and the potential for fighting in highly contested airspace is the inspiration for bringing the competition back to life. Maintainers are excited to get into the action.

“Somebody referred to it as kind of like the Super Bowl for us, and that’s how I look at it,” Woods said.

About 800 Airmen are expected to participate, Air Combat Command told Air & Space Forces Magazine, representing nine squadrons from the Active, Guard, and Reserve components. Among them will be:

Air Combat Command

  • F-15E Strike Eagles from the 4th Fighter Wing, Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C., and 366th Fighter Wing, Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho
  • F-22 Raptors from the 1st Fighter Wing, Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va.
  • F-35 Lightning IIs from the 388th Fighter Wing, Hill Air Force Base, Utah
  • Command and Control from the 552 Air Control Wing, Tinker Air Force Base, Okla.

Pacific Air Forces

  • F-22 Raptors from the 3rd Wing, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, and the 154th Fighter Wing, Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii
  • Command and Control from the 3rd Wing, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, and the 18th Wing, Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, Japan

Air National Guard

  • F-15 C/D Eagles from the 104th Fighter Wing, Barnes Air National Guard Base, Mass.
  • F-35 Lightning IIs from the 158th Fighter Wing, Burlington Air National Guard Base, Vt.