Military Aviation

William Tell is back after 19-year hiatus. Air Force’s version of Top Gun to showcase air-to-air capabilities of USAF, ANG and Reserve F-22, F-35 and F-15 Eagle units.

William Tell competition is back

The Air Dominance Center, also known as the Savannah Combat Readiness Training Center, at Savannah Air National Guard Base, will be the host venue for this year’s William Tell competition in coordination with Air Combat Command from Sept. 11-15, 2023, after a 19-year hiatus.

As already reported the two-week event will showcase the air-to-air capabilities of the F-22, F-35 and F-15 Eagle units.

According to Air & Space Forces Magazine, about 800 Airmen are expected to participate, 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 AFB, N.C., and 366th Fighter Wing, Mountain Home AFB, Idaho
F-22 Raptors from the 1st Fighter Wing, Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va.
• F-35 Lightning IIs from the 388th Fighter Wing, Hill AFB, 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, HI
F-35 Lightning IIs from the 354th Fighter Wing, Eielson AFB, Alaska
• 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 ANGB, Vt.

Patch for William Tell 2023. The Air Force’s first William Tell air-to-air competition in almost twenty years takes flight at the Air Dominance Center, Savanah, Georgia, September 11 to 15.

Air Force’s very own version of “Top Gun”

As told by Master Sgt. Caila Arahood, 165th Airlift Wing, in the article Air Dominance Center to host William Tell competition after 19-year hiatus, these units will come together in a total force integrated environment to compete for both individual and team awards. For example, pilots will be tested on their offensive and defensive skills in maneuvers against enemy aircraft, and the best group will be hailed as the top “fighter integration team” in the Air Force’s very own version of “Top Gun.”

“If you’re into football, this is the Super Bowl, if you’re into baseball, this is the World Series and if you’re into golf, this is the Masters Tournament,” said Lt. Col. Stephen “Tracker” Thomas, the Air Dominance Center commander. “The airspace we have here on our coast is a national treasure and will allow the competing pilots the ability to operate to their absolute full potential to show who is truly the best of the best.”

19-year hiatus

The Air Dominance Center is conveniently located near several ideal training areas, including the Townsend Bombing Range and a military operations airspace ranging from Charleston, South Carolina to Orlando, Florida that makes it a one-of-a-kind training location for warfighters across the Department of Defense.

“We are a center that brings in units from across the country and provides a training venue like no other,” said Thomas. “We give Airmen the opportunity to train to their full operational level and that is exactly what these nine units attending the William Tell meet are going to do here in September,” said Thomas.

The historic competition, which has not been held since its 50th anniversary in 2004 due to the War on Terror, will simulate a multitude of air combat scenarios with 4th and 5th generation fighter aircraft acting as enemy “red teams” to prepare Airmen for real-life combat.

In the 19-year hiatus the Air Force has changed with fighter integrated tactics, 5th generation aircraft and near-pear threats.

William Tell competition

The historic competition is named after the legendary Swiss archer and was a biennial competition that encouraged the most challenging air-to-air scenarios since 1954.

This print is available in multiple sizes from – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. F-15E Strike Eagle 335th FS, 4th OG, SJ/88-1695 / 2009

However, the first ever Air Force Weapons’ Meet was held in 1949 at a test airfield outside of Las Vegas, NV, now called Nellis Air Force Base.

In 1956, the competition was unofficially given the name of “William Tell” and included nine teams representing seven major air commands.

The last edition of the competition was held at Tyndall Air Force Base in Panama City, Fla., from Nov. 8 to Nov. 19, 2004.

According to Stars and Stripes, William Tell 2004 tested aircrew performance in the air dominance and air sovereignty missions, while evaluating cold/live-fire weapons employment and the tactics executed. The meet showcased air-to-air capabilities of F-15C units from four major commands and the Air National Guard.

While the US Air Force still maintains a steady operations tempo, William Tell planners hope resuming the event will foster the exchange of tactics and better prepare Airmen for combat operations.

Thomas said there will be two events per day, with one launch starting around 8:00 a.m. and a second beginning in the afternoon around 1:00 p.m. each day. There will be a scoreboard announcement each evening that will be posted on social media and other channels that will be officially announced near the start of the competition.

Photo credit: U.S. Air Force

This model is available from AirModels – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS.
Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

Recent Posts

That time Thunderbirds delayed their display because they were scared by an SR-71 doing a low-level fly by in afterburner above their F-16s

The Blackbird The SR-71 reconnaissance aircraft was the world’s fastest jet-propelled aircraft and the most… Read More

21 hours ago