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News | Feb. 26, 2024

Wisconsin Airmen complete first F-35 training deployment

By Senior Master Sgt. Paul Gorman & Master Sgt. Mary Greenwood 115th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

More than 150 Airmen assigned to the Wisconsin Air National Guard’s 115th Fighter Wing completed the Weapons System Evaluation Program’s Combat Archer exercise Feb. 23, 2024, at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida.

The exercise was the first training deployment of the unit’s F-35A Lightning II aircraft, providing pilots and maintenance personnel experience handling and firing live air-to-air munitions.

“WSEP is a formal evaluation of a unit's ability to conduct air-to-air live fire missions,” said Capt. Alexander Abbott, the 115th Fighter Wing project officer for WSEP 24.05. "Beyond evaluation, live-fire air-to-air experience against threat-representative targets boosts confidence and provides critical feedback to the unit and missile engineers.”

Tech. Sgt. Patrick Joyce, a weapons expeditor with the 115th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, saw distinct advantages to training outside of Truax Field.

“We learn to think on the fly with our live training exercises. This is the first time that we’re loading live munitions on the airframe,” said Joyce. “We’ve had to work through a number of procedures different from those required on our prior F-16s, but I think those experiences help shape us into better loaders and better technicians.”

The WSEP exercise also allowed Madison based F-35 pilots an opportunity to practice the tactical departure techniques used in high threat environments.

According to Lt. Col. Michael Koob, commander of the 176th Fighter Squadron, high-speed takeoffs are essential to rapidly achieve safe ejection altitudes while minimizing ground-to-air threats.

“We want to get as high as fast as we can and that involves an afterburner takeoff,” said Koob. “In Madison we don’t practice afterburner takeoffs to minimize noise, resulting in takeoffs that look more like an airline departure.”

Participation in Combat Archer gave both full-time and traditional guardsmen the opportunity to complete a deployment simulation from beginning to end.

“This two-week exercise is no different than if we were to go overseas,” said Koob. “We have to exercise that muscle every now and then to make sure we know how to get out the door when tasked to support worldwide contingencies.”