Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Eglin Airmen test readiness during weeklong exercise

by Chrissy Cuttita, 33rd Fighter Wing Public Affairs

A 58th Aircraft Maintenance Unit crew chief marshals an F-15 Eagle ready to takeoff for a simulated Operation Noble Eagle tasking during a 33rd Fighter Wing exercise Dec. 17 at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. (U.S. Air Force photo/Chrissy Cuttita)

EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. (AFNS) -- Airmen of the 33rd Fighter Wing here tested their ability to respond anytime and anywhere in support of the nation's defense during an Operation Noble Eagle exercise in mid-December.

Wing planners and exercise evaluation team members created plans and scenarios to provide an accurate replication of real-world deployment orders to the wing from higher headquarters.

Base members had to scramble F-15 Eagles as quickly as possible in an environment with increased security measures to give the exercise an authentic feeling.

"F-15s will be on alert, ready to scramble and launch against air threats to a simulated no-fly zone that is established in support of Homeland Defense," said Lt. Col. David McClanahan, the 33rd FW chief of plans and programs whose office plans exercises and evaluates the wing's performance. "We relate our employment exercises to anticipated taskings. The F-15 is an air superiority asset for America, so we're practicing homeland-defense missions."

"Once the order is received, we configure the aircraft with fuel and munitions required for the mission and conduct preflight inspections," said Senior Master Sgt. Jay Mason, the 58th Aircraft maintenance unit superintendent. "Once all required actions are complete, the aircraft is considered 'on-status' for any tasking. We are prepared to fill any and all required aircraft taskings."

During a real Operation Noble Eagle mission, Eglin AFB aircrews could shadow, intercept, escort, and provide aid or, if necessary, use force to protect North America. To intercept, pilots need to see and identify the aircraft.

For the exercise, a Civil Air Patrol-owned Cessna 206 and Cessna 337 flew into a simulated "no-fly" zone and Eglin AFB F-15 pilots had to intercept the low-flying aircraft.

"We want to give them as much realism as possible," said Capt. Grant Meadows, the director of marketing and public relations for Florida's CAP wing.

Weapons loaders also were tested as they had jets prepared to "fire" by going through all of the motions hands-on as if they were loading live missiles.

"The process of preparing and launching an alert sortie is a little different than normal and must be done in a very short amount of time," said Maj. Jonathan Bland, the 33rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron commander. "The exercise gives our maintainers a chance to become more comfortable with that process and improve our speed so that we will be in top shape when called for a real mission."

Eglin AFB members also participated in creating the exercise environment with support from officials from security forces, airfield support and air traffic control.

"Maintaining air superiority takes more than pilots in airplanes, it takes lots of maintenance personnel, planners, communications specialists, and command/control personnel," Colonel McClanahan said. "We have to practice working together so it's flawless when we're tasked to do the real thing. Practice keeps our intricate air defense machine functioning seamlessly."