On Aug. 14, 2023, at Jacksonville Air National Guard Base (ANGB) Maj. Brannon Ferguson, a pilot at the 159th Fighter Squadron, retired an F-15C Eagle by flying the jet to the “boneyard” at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona.
According to the article A Beloved Eagle Retires by Tech Sgt. Chelsea Smith, 125th Fighter Wing, the departure represents the Florida Air National Guard 125th Fighter Wing (125 FW)’s divesture in the F-15C Eagle airframe as the installation prepares to receive the first batch of F-35 Lightning II aircraft in early 2025. Infrastructure changes and conversion training for Airmen are currently underway to prepare for the change in mission, which will equip the wing with the Air Force’s most sophisticated fifth-generation fighter. The arrival of F-35s will posture 125th FW Airmen to meet air superiority and global strike needs for the US defense, and mark the end of a 30-year era flying F-15 fighter jets.
“The F-35A Lightning II represents a new era in airborne capabilities for our unit,” the Air National Guard director Lt. Gen. Michael A. Loh had said when the decision was announced in 2020 to bed down the F-35A at the 125th Fighter Wing. “As a vital component of the Total Air Force, the Air National Guard continues to rise to the challenges of our time, embracing these advanced weapon systems to ensure our readiness for the future.”
The 125th Fighter Wing positions as the Air National Guard’s fourth F-35 unit thanks to this bold transition. The wing’s legacy, built over years of dedicated service and commitment, will now intertwine with the cutting-edge capabilities of the F-35A, ensuring that the unit remains at the forefront of air power.
As reported by Alert 5, adding to the historic significance of this shift, on Aug. 13, 2021, Capt. Joseph “Sic” Scerra etched his name in the annals of aviation history. Capt. Scerra became the first pilot from the 159th Fighter Squadron to complete a sortie flying the F-35A Lightning II. The milestone flight took place under the banner of the 56th Fighter Wing at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, showcasing the seamless integration and collaborative efforts across Air Force units.
In 1995, the 159th Fighter Squadron converted from the F-16ADF to the A and B versions of the F-15 Eagle as its primary fighter aircraft. That same year, the parent unit for the 159 FS, the 125 FG, was redesignated the 125th Fighter Wing (125 FW), placing the unit on par organizationally with Regular US Air Force fighter units. According to Wikipedia, five years after the conversion to the F-15, Fighter Data Link (FDL) technology was incorporated into the F-15, allowing the pilots to link flight data with multiple users, providing real-time information on air and ground threats. The 159th continued to incorporate newer technology in its 1970s era F-15As and F-15Bs under the F-15 Multistage Improvement Program (F-15 MSIP), such as the upgrade to 220E model engines.
In 2006, the 159 FS replaced its previous F-15A/B Eagle (MSIP) aircraft with its current F-15C and F-15D variants.
Anticipation and excitement run high among Airmen as the F-35A Lightning II prepares to grace the tarmac of the 125th Fighter Wing’s home base. The journey from the iconic F-15C Eagle to the technologically advanced F-35A Lightning II underscores the Air National Guard’s commitment to maintaining its unwavering role in safeguarding our nation’s defense.
Photo credit: Tech Sgt. Chelsea Smith / U.S. Air Force
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