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Sortie Number One

GREAT FALLS, Mont. -- Two sounds dominated the Montana Air National Guard last month as the first F-15 sortie took off:  the thunder of the twin-engine tactical fighter , and the quiet "All right!" everyone felt inside as the Eagle whisked by and boldly announced that the 120th Fighter Wing is back in business.
     
The first rule of launching or flying an aircraft is to focus and remain focused on your task.  With the concentration of a prize fighter, F-15 Pilot, Lt. Col. James McComas and F-15 Crew Chiefs, Tech. Sgts. Marty Kummer and Doug LaPierre weren't distracted by the cameras or bystanders.  It was a comforting feeling watching these airmen perform their assigned pre-flight duties in unison knowing the ultimate role they play in this nation's defense.
     
All systems checked, chocks removed, salutes exchanged, and the Eagle began to taxi.  "This means that we are officially switching gears from a training environment to an operational environment," said Component Maintenance Flight Supervisor, Chief Master Sgt. Roy Hannah.  "Not saying that we are experts because the learning in any weapons system happens everyday, but over time we will get more experience and more efficient."
     
"The first sortie is a positive step towards our goal of being proficient and completely qualified on this new airframe," said Tech. Sgt. Jeremy Marn.  "The first sortie is a good indication that regular flying is closer to becoming reality."
     
The MTANG has been relatively void of any military jet noise for nearly six months, and the event was a welcome moment to announce that we are back.  Thousands of man-hours were performed in the Maintenance Group to ensure a safe and reliable mission.
     
The F-15, on average, is about ten years older than its cousin, the F-16.  Maintaining the F-15 has its own set of challenges not found on the F-16.  "The aircraft is bigger, making it easier to remove and replace components, and the aircraft uses less technology making it easier to understand systems," said Master Sgt. Mike Donahue, supervisor of the phase dock.  "It is bigger, older and not as maintenance friendly as the F-16."
     
"Right now it is a lot harder for the simple fact we have spent the last 20 years working on F-16s," said Chief Hannah.  "This F-15 is similar but different, again the experience that we have on this aircraft is very little, but over time we will get a lot more efficient."
     
However, some maintenance areas are finding the opposite.  "For the egress shop, once we get over the learning curve the F-15 should be easier than the F-16 because we don't maintain the canopy, which was labor intensive for us on the F-16," said Master Sgt. Ed Higgins, who is assigned in the aircrew egress section.
     
For local Great Falls citizens, the event was also a special occasion.  "This first sortie of the F-15 from Great Falls represents several years of hard work on the part of MTANG to completely transition all their pilots, maintenance and support personnel to an entirely different combat aircraft," said Mr. Mike Flaherty, who is a member of the local Military Affairs Committee.  "This first sortie indicates that the MTANG has been successful in meeting that challenge and that the 120th remains a critical part of the nation's defense now and for the future."
     
A summation of the day's event was captured by Maj. Larry Gardner. "To be able to continue flying fighter aircraft, train in the beautiful state of Montana and be a small part of over 1,000 extremely talented airmen is without a doubt something to look forward to-hopefully for many years to come."
     
The MTANG is scheduled to receive a total of 15 Eagles by the end of the year.  The F-15 first flew in July 1972.  It is one of the most recognized fighters of the modern day.  The U.S. Air Force plans to keep the F-15 in service until 2025, and is being replaced by the F-22 Raptor.    
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