First Time at William Tell

  • Published
  • By By Lt Col Terrence G. Popravak, Jr., USAF (Retired)
  • 142nd Fighter Wing History Office
The year was 1307.  A legendary Swiss crossbowman by the name of William Tell offended a local lord named Gessler, who took offense when Tell failed to bow before his hat.  Tell was punished by the petty lord with a choice, either he and his son would be executed, or if he wished, he could try and shoot an apple off the head of his son with the bolt of a crossbow.  William Tell chose the latter, and successfully split the apple atop his son's head.

Fast forward to the 20th Century, when William Tell's precision became a goal for the USAF Air Defense Command (ADC) on a bi-annual air-to-air weapons meet with origins that began with a rocketry competition in June, 1954. The initial meet was between ADC and Air Training Command teams, and designed to sharpen the weapons employment skills of ADC fighter-interceptor units with a little friendly competition. 

In 1956 the name "William Tell" was unofficially given to the meet, which began to expand with units from other major commands participating.  In 1959, Portland Air Force Base's 460th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron (FIS) competed and won the F-102 category and Top Gun award.  The meet continued to grow until 1965, when 16 teams, the largest number ever gathered, vied for the prizes.

Skip ahead five years to 1970.  The Vietnam War's demands caused the USAF to cancel William Tell meets after the large contest of 1965.  In 1970 the Redhawks of the Oregon Air National Guard (OreANG) were flying the Convair F-102 Delta Dagger fighter-interceptor, and well-experienced in the aircraft after more than four years of operating it.  Their prowess was rewarded with earning a place for the low-cost William Tell World-Wide Weapons Meet of that year.  The National Guard Bureau selected ANG teams based on unit performance over an 18-month period going into the meet.  So the OreANG happily fielded one of the nine teams from ADC, the ANG and Canadian Armed Forces that competed in one of three categories during October, 1970.

The 142nd Fighter Group's William Tell 1970 team included six pilots and 30 ground crew members to operate and maintain the five aircraft sent to the competition held at Tyndall AFB, Florida.  In addition the team had a four member air weapons controller detachment attached to support intercept operations.  The senior pilot and team leader was the 142nd Fighter Group Commander Colonel Patrick E. O'Grady.

The week-long competition saw squadrons representing the three then-current Air Defense Command and Royal Canadian Air Force fighter-interceptors including the F-102, McDonnell F-101/CF-101 Voodoo and Convair F-106 Delta Dart.  The teams engaged high-flying jet drones, low-flying tow targets as well as aircraft operating in an electronic countermeasures environment.  All these profiles were designed to make a realistic test of individual flying squadron's ability to defend the United States and Canada airspace from bomber attack under the direction of the North American Air Defense Command (NORAD).

The meet began with the arrival of aircraft and crews on Thursday, 22 October 1970.  On Friday the teams were briefed on local procedures and competition rules.  Weapons load teams underwent written exams.  The competition began in earnest on 26 October.  Every team was to fly three live-firing missions in daylight hours and one night dry-firing mission in an electronic countermeasures (ECM) environment.  The four primary aircraft of every team were tasked to make a firing attempt on each mission.  Their aerial targets of their weapons included BQM-33A drones and TDU-25B towed targets.

Points were awarded to each team in a variety of areas, from scheduled takeoff and landing times, proper use of intercept procedures, armament used and proximity to targets of weapons fired.

In addition to the flying side of things, there was also a weapons loading competition.  The load crews on each team were tested on their ability to use equipment properly in accordance with standard operating procedures and the time in which they could safely complete a weapons loadout on their unit's fighter-interceptor.  Other competition events included best aircrew/maintenance team and best weapons control/direction team.

The final sorties and results were in on Saturday, 31 October.  The Redhawks did their best in their first William Tell meet and placed second in the F-102 category behind the Minnesota ANG's 148th FIS out of Duluth IAP, which swept up all the F-102 category awards except for the weapons loading.  The 124th Fighter Group from Boise, Idaho, won the F-102 weapons loading competition.  The Air National Guard's 178th FIS out of Hector, North Dakota, won the F-101 category and the competition Top Gun award.  The F-106 category was won by ADC's 71st FIS from Malmstrom AFB, Montana.  The results were a demonstration of the ANG's critical and growing role in providing the air defense for the nation.

The USAF Chief of Staff, General John D. Ryan, congratulated the ADC and participants in the meet in a message sent to Lieutenant General Thomas K. McGehee, Commander, ADC.  In part it read:  "As the ramp at Tyndall is emptying and interceptor units are returning home, I want to congratulate you and members of your command for having conducted a highly successful William Tell Weapons Meet. This meet is particularly pleasing in that you have accomplished all of the objectives at less than one-tenth of the cost for prior competitions. Congratulations again for a spectacular accident/incident free Weapons Meet."

Although the Redhawks did not win an award or category in their first William Tell meet it was a valuable experience for the OreANG and no doubt provided some motivation for the Oregonians in the next time they competed in William Tell.  But that's another story.

Since that first time, now 45 years ago, the Redhawks have participated in William Tell air-to-air weapons meets fairly regularly, in 1976, 1978, 1984, 1986, 1988, 1996 and the last meet held in 2004 after an eight-year hiatus.  The 142nd Fighter Wing's teams garnered many awards since 1970, including top in category, Top Gun, best maintenance and weapons loading, etc.  They make Oregon proud every time they aim for that apple at William Tell.

Members of Oregon's 1970 William Tell Team were:

Col Patrick E. O'Grady, Leader
Lt Col Robert E. Renn, Maintenance Officer
Maj William B. McDonald, Pilot
Maj Jimmy K. Angel, Pilot
Capt Robert M. Parker, Pilot
Capt Michael E. Ranslam, Alternate Pilot
Capt Harold L. Hoffman, Alternate Pilot
CMSgt Fred B. Boero, Aircraft Maintenance
MSgt Lawrence E. Brown, Automatic Flight Control Systems Shop
MSgt Joseph R. Cannard, Aircraft Maintenance
MSgt Paul A. Comfort, Weapons Control
MSgt Raymond G. Dahm, Aircraft Maintenance
MSgt M. J. Gustafson, Jr., Aircraft Maintenance
MSgt Allen D. Kaser, Weapons Release
MSgt Noel L. Kemmerick, Munitions Maintenance
MSgt Kenneth J. McCoy, Weapons Control
MSgt Larry W. Rosen, Weapons Control
MSgt Glennie L. Williams, Weapons Control
TSgt Robert L. Briggs, Instrument Shop
TSgt Richard L. Chambers, Comm Shop
TSgt Claude R. Dudas, Aircraft Maintenance
TSgt William E. Dunlap, Ground Power
TSgt Charles M. Estey, Engine Shop
TSgt Donald R. Hays, Aircraft Maintenance
TSgt Owen D. Hinkle, Hydraulic Shop
TSgt Dennis R. Johnson, Weapons Release
TSgt Franklin P. Noragon, Weapons Control
TSgt Lance B. Paulson, Weapons Control
TSgt David P. Peterson, Munitions Maintenance
SSgt Jay R. Baker, Electric Shop
SSgt Barry L. Barter, Personal Equipment
SSgt Virgil W. Bartley, Weapons Control
SSgt Eli Leija, Aircraft Maintenance
SSgt Benjamin J. Vann, Aircraft Maintenance
SSgt Joe L. Woodburn, Weapons Release
Sgt Walter J. Le Doux, Weapons Release

The Weapons Controllers with the 142nd Fighter Group Team at William Tell 1970 came from Keno Air Force Station, southwest of Klamath Falls, Oregon, and consisted of the following personnel:

Capt Raymond W. McCleod, Weapons Direction, Director
Capt Edward D. Mendonca, Weapons Direction, Director
MSgt Donald L. Fisher, Weapons Direction, Technician
TSgt William F. May, Weapons Direction, Technician