Portland Air National Guard Gets First Crack At New Combat Jet

VanderWolf Images / shutterstock.com
VanderWolf Images / shutterstock.com

On June 5, the U.S. Air Force proudly welcomed the arrival of its first combat-ready F-15EX Eagle II, marking a significant milestone in military aviation. The aircraft, manufactured by Boeing, took off from its production site in St. Louis, Missouri, and was received at the Portland Air National Guard Base in Oregon, where it will be stationed with the Air National Guard’s 142nd Wing.

This F-15EX is the pioneer aircraft among a planned fleet of nearly 100, with 18 of these advanced fighters being assembled at Boeing’s St. Louis facility specifically for the 142nd Wing. The delivery of this state-of-the-art jet to an Air National Guard unit ahead of active duty units is unprecedented, highlighting the exceptional capabilities of the 142nd Wing’s personnel.

Col. Michael Kosderka, the Wing Commander, emphasized the significance of this event in a statement captured in an Air Force video, saying, “It’s a super big deal.” He praised the proficiency of the wing’s pilots, maintainers, fuelers, and logisticians, which established them as the prime candidates to spearhead the operational use of the Eagle IIs.

The jet was piloted to Oregon by Maj. Calvin “Knife” Conner and Maj. Brandon “Wiggles” Wigton from the 123rd Fighter Squadron of the 142nd Wing. The departure event at the St. Louis facility was also attended by Maj. Gen. Duke Pirak, the deputy director of the Air National Guard.

Upon arrival, Col. Kosderka reiterated the strategic importance of the base and the new aircraft, stating, “We’re here to protect the Pacific Northwest with our 24/7 alert mission.” He further highlighted the enhanced operational capabilities the new jet brings, noting, “We’re also here to now get this new weapon system that will allow us to participate and survive in major combat operations.”

Boeing has announced that the Air Force’s second operational F-15EX will be delivered to Portland in the coming weeks, completing the initial production batch. Since 2021, Boeing has already delivered six test F-15EXs. The company is currently producing approximately three jets every two months and plans to increase this rate to two per month by 2025. The next batch of jets is scheduled for delivery in late 2024.

The F-15EX, an upgraded model of the fourth-generation F-15, features advanced avionics, fly-by-wire controls, and enhanced electronic warfare capabilities. It is set to replace older F-15C and D-model jets as part of the Air Force’s modernization efforts. However, the proposed Air Force budget for fiscal 2025 has reduced the number of F-15EXs to be purchased and suggests halting further acquisitions in subsequent years. In contrast, the House’s proposed 2025 defense policy bill seeks to extend the production line by allocating an additional $271 million for 24 more F-15EXs in 2026.

Col. Kosderka shared his initial impressions of the new jet, noting its resemblance to its predecessors but with quieter engines. He described the enthusiastic reception the aircraft received upon arrival, saying, “When they popped the canopy open [after landing], the cheers, the clapping, it’s incredibly exciting.”

This development not only underscores the ongoing enhancements in U.S. military aviation but also demonstrates the strategic foresight in equipping the National Guard with advanced capabilities to ensure national security.