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Barnes F-15s to protect the northeast skies

An F-15 coasts along the runway at Barnes Air National Guard Base. Reminder Publications submitted photos
By Katelyn Gendron

Reminder Assistant Editor

WESTFIELD A series of major transformations have been taking place at Barnes Air National Guard Base over the past several years. Changes in command and the announcement of a new mission, aircraft and personnel are just some of the new sights at the base.

Changes mandated by the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) list, as well as additional structural upgrades, totaling approximately $45 million, are currently transforming the facility into a new base of operations for the F-15 an air superiority aircraft and the Air Sovereignty Alert Mission. The base was previously home to A-10s, which provide close air support to troops.

According to Capt. Matthew Mutti, executive staff officer, the changes are necessary to achieve mission ready status by 2010. The new mission places Barnes as the primary component within the North American Air Defense System.

The F-15 has served the United States Air Force (USAF) as air superiority aircraft since the 1970s and is projected to remain in service until 2025.

A fleet-wide grounding of the F-15s last November due to a crash during a training exercise in Missouri caused by a structural failure of the upper longerons has prevented the 18 F-15s and approximately 35 pilots from conducting any training missions at Barnes.

Thorough inspections of each aircraft before being cleared for flight, as mandated by the United States Air Force Air Combat Command, as well as check flights currently being conducted will enable the pilots to begin training exercises this month.

Capt. Dan Wittmer, a pilot who recently transferred from Otis Air National Guard Base in Falmouth, Mass., said he has lost no confidence in the capabilities or the structural maintainability of his aircraft. He added that he believes the USAF has completed a thorough inspection of the aircraft in order to pinpoint the exact structural failure as well as mandate proper improvements to the longerons.

First Lt. Nate Oswalt, pilot, agrees, adding that the aircraft has an undefeated combat record 104 kills to zero losses in air combat.

Last month, the installation of the BAK-12/14 arresting system a cabling system installed in the runway to stop the aircraft during an emergency landing was the final improvement needed before the F-15s could be taken in the air for check flights.

"This system provides an additional layer of safety to the pilots," Lt. Col. William Kelly, base civil engineer, said.

The 131st Fighter Squadron Commander Lt. Col. Thom Kelly explained, "The check flight program allows us to ensure all flight systems are working properly before the aircraft is flown during training flights. Safety is always our highest priority, both for the pilots and the support personnel."

According to Mutti, pilots will begin training missions gradually over the next several months before beginning a standard flight schedule of two flying periods per day.

Prior to gaining mission ready status in 2010, structural improvements to the base are be completed. Additional or improved facilities, some of which have already begun construction, include an upgraded weapons, maintenance and training facility, an addition to the fire crash/rescue station, an upgrade to the F-15 apron (tarmac) and a new Explosive Ordnance Disposal facility.

In 2010, pilots, technicians and aircrafts will be on alert 24 hours a day, seven days a week to scramble or intercept threats to the northeast corridor of the United States.