USA   F-111 Aardvark OZ

EF-111s taking final flight soon.


by Staff Sgt. Deborah VanNierop
Combined Task Force Public Affairs

INCIRLIK AIR BASE, Turkey (AFNS) -- After 2,091 days, the EF-111As here for Operation Northern Watch are preparing for their final flight from the Turkish tarmac that has been home for so long.

The 429th Electronic Combat Squadron from Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., is scheduled to depart June 24. The unit, which has been involved with
Operations Provide Comfort and Northern Watch since 1991, will return to Cannon. There the aircraft will remain until March, when they will be
formally retired from the Air Force inventory.

The Air Force EF-111 Raven will be replaced by the Navy's EA-6B Prowler. The Marine Fixed-Wing Attack Electronic Warfare Squadron 1 from Marine Corps Air Station, Cherry Point, N.C., will fly the ONW missions at Incirlik.

Besides almost 13 years of EF-111 rule throughout the U.S. European Command, the unit leaves behind more than 30 years of history; however, the real story is the dedication of those who fly and maintain the aircraft, said Brig. Gen. Don Lamontagne, Combined Task Force co-commanding general.

"What many people don't realize is the same individuals who were with the planes in Desert Shield, Desert Storm and Operation Provide Comfort (I and II) are the same people who are here today with Operations Northern Watch and Southern Watch," said the general, himself a former F-111 pilot.

The first operational F-111 aircraft was delivered in October 1967 to Nellis AFB, Nev. The Air Force began the conversion to EF-111As in 1972.

If anyone can paint the "cradle to grave" EF-111 picture, it's Tech. Sgt. Ken Oswald. As an electronic countermeasure systems maintainer, Oswald has been working with the Ravens since 1981.

"I started working with the aircraft's initial jamming equipment test program at Mountain Home (AFB), Idaho," he said.

He was there until 1985 before leaving for Royal Air Force Station Upper Heyford, England, where he joined the 42nd ECS. He served in Desert Storm and Operation Provide Comfort. In 1994, he participated in Vigilant Warrior, and has since taken part in Operations Southern Watch and Northern Watch.

The master sergeant selectee has been deployed to both Turkey and Saudi Arabia -- eight times at each location. Last year he was away from home 238 days, and he's been deployed a total of 680 days since his arrival at Cannon AFB in 1993.

The traveling is just part of the job, Oswald said. The other side of the story is working "on a great plane, with great people.

"We are a closely knit community because we travel together so often. The maintainers and operators really understand each other, and that contributes to how well we do our job," he said.

The job has been done very well, said the general, who cites the EF-111 as the backbone of suppression of enemy air defense in all major operations in which the United States has participated since 1986. In its two-seat cockpit, a pilot and an electronic warfare officer can detect, sort, identify and jam different enemy radars, he explained. That capability is the reason the EF-111s have seen action in Libya, Panama, Saudi Arabia and over Northern Iraq. During Operation Desert Storm all available Ravens were deployed to Middle East bases to support U.S. and allied combat operations. More than 1,300 sorties were flown.

Lamontagne, who has more than 2,000 flying hours in all models of the F-111, said it's hard to imagine combat operations without the Ravens.

"The EA-6Bs have some very big shoes to fill, because the Ravens are leaving behind a terrific performance record."

The EF-111s have flown more than 2,800 sorties while in Turkey.

"The Ravens have had a perfect safety record, and that makes what they've done here even more impressive," Lamontagne said.

Returning to Cannon, many of the pilots and maintainers will seek new employment.

"A number of our guys have volunteered to go to Whidbey Island (Naval Air Station, Wash.) to join the combined Navy/Air Force EA-6B Prowler squadrons," said Lt. Col. Steven Brandt, 429th ECS deployed detachment commander. The joint venture is the result of a decision between the two services and the secretary of defense to consolidate the mission of airborne threat radar jamming. Five EA-6B squadrons, with 24 aircrews, are being created.

The toughest part for everyone associated with the aircraft is seeing it retired, according to Brandt, who has been an F-111 electronic warfare officer since 1980.

"There is so much history surrounding the F-111. From the first and only night missions in Vietnam to Operation Northern Watch, it's flown for 31 distinguished years," he said.

The last flight from Incirlik will close one more chapter in the F-111s' history book.

"I'm proud to have had the Ravens under my command at Operation Northern Watch," said Lamontagne, who was the operations group commander for the 27th Fighter Wing at Cannon from 1991 to 1993. "It's sad to see this era end."

Thanks to Don Logan for forwarding this to me.

As a postscript, the first EF-111A (67-0041) was retired to the boneyard on 30 July 1997 - Doc Servo

A further postscript is that the EF Farewell weekend is 1-3 May 98. See the Cannon AFB Web Site for details. LOGO

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