REHOVOT, Israel - Eight F-15s from the 173rd Fighter Wing, Oregon Air National Guard, touched down recently at Tel Nof Israeli air base in Rehovot, Israel, in the first-ever active ramp-to-ramp transfer of aircraft.
This event, on Sept. 15, was the result of approximately two years of concept development, planning and execution by Airmen from Kingsley Field, Department of Defense officials, Foreign Military Sales (FMS), the Israeli air force, and many more.
"Two years ago, several of our jets were scheduled for retirement and they were going to be taken to the bone yard; one of the options that came up was FMS," said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Matthew Thomas, the detachment commander for the deployment.
While the U.S. Air Force has transferred decommissioned aircraft to other countries in the past, this transaction was a first of its kind. These transfers are typically done once the aircraft are already sent to Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Center, otherwise known as the boneyard, in Tucson, Arizona.
"This is the first time taking actual aircraft that were on the line flying one day, and then literally turning around taking them to another country the next," said Thomas.
A direct transfer of aircraft in this way would mean significant cost savings for the United States,,m said Maj. Michael Kuehni, the project officer for this deployment.
Because this event was without precedent, making the transfer happen proved challenging as the Kingsley team built an execution plan from scratch.
"It was a complex process that required the coordination of multiple agencies and near constant changes and updates," said Master Sgt. Michael Shirar, the personnel coordinator for the deployment. "At several points in the planning process it was thought that mission was going to be a no-go. But the no-fail attitudes of everyone involved brought all the moving parts together in standard Kingsley fashion."
However, the biggest challenge came when it was actually time to execute the transfer.
"Most of our challenges actually came from the time of year that we ended up having to make our deployment," said Thomas. "Doing it in the last month of the fiscal year poses some serious challenges as far as availability of other assets, and that is where the Kingsley team really shone."
Kingsley Field could only continue to fly and maintain the eight jets slated for transfer until the end of the fiscal year, Sept. 30. That deadline loomed over the project, threatening to stall the transfer permanently.
With little time to spare the paperwork for the transfer was approved, which required a last-minute scramble for the needed airlift and support to ferry the eight fighters halfway around the planet. Several plans looked promising only to be dashed as units had their aircraft tasked for other contingencies. The transfer looked increasingly unlikely, but with only a few weeks left, Kingsley Airman made a last push to line up air support and a date was set.
"We end up leaving on Sunday, and we have to get the jets there by late Thursday….in respect to religious holidays and some other things that were other defining factors on the timeline," said Thomas.
The jets made two stops along the way for crew rest and maintenance—one at Barnes Air National Guard Base in Massachusetts, and then Royal Air Force Lakenheath in England. The short timeline meant these stops were brief, and left little leeway for any maintenance issues.
"A call out to our maintainers for what they did…they managed to get eight code-one jets down on-time in Israel," said Thomas, pointing out how challenging that accomplishment really was.
"It was amazing to see eight F-15s, two KC-10s, and a C-17 go across the globe without any maintenance problems," said Kuehni. "In my 12 to 13 years of flying F-15s I have never seen that happen before. It's a huge testament to the power of prayer, our maintainers and Air Force being able to pull that off!"
Once the jets were on the ramp at Tel Nof air base, Kingsley maintainers quickly went to work to transfer the aircraft over to the Israeli air force personnel, who will now take the aircraft and start the process of converting it into the F-15I, which they refer to as "The Baz."
"I thought the most interesting thing was interacting with the Israelis, especially the F-15 community there," said Kuehni. "They are Eagle drivers just like us! I took a lot of pride of being able to meet them and help them out."
Thomas added, "It really showed a capability the F-15 has that we haven't demonstrated in a while because we haven't needed to. But being able to work as a team and get everything there as one of the more learning factors from our side."