Posted: Jun 18, 2013 7:17 PM by Cody Proctor - MTN News
Updated: Jun 18, 2013 7:18 PM
GREAT FALLS - The first F-15 fighter jet has now left the Montana Air National Guard and arrived at its new home in Fresno as part of the California Air National Guard.
Three more of the jets will leave by the end of the month, and the majority will fly out in September and October.
There's expected to be some overlap with the incoming C-130s cargo planes, which will begin arriving in the fall, and all eight that will be assigned to the MT ANG should be in Great Falls by next spring.
Colonel Pete Hronek, commander of the MT ANG's 120th Fighter Wing, said, "It's going to be sad to see them go. Probably a little more significant just because -- transitioning from a fighter unit, of 66 years of history in that...into an airlift mission. Both great missions for the United States Air Force and the state. So we're moving on. There will be a little sense of loss, but also a great excitement of what we now have in the future of the mission."
A handful of Montana pilots will move on, choosing to continue to fly the F-15, though most of the pilots will make the transition to the C-130; they will begin training later this year.
Between air crews and maintenance, MT ANG could lose up to 45 full-time positions.
We're told most of those jobs are already vacant, the MT ANG anticipated job losses due to the mission change.
Before the new cargo planes can come to their new home in Great Falls, an environmental assessment needs to be done, maintenance crews need to be brought in, and hangar modifications need to be completed.
David Weissman of the Montana Defense Alliance said, "It is bittersweet to see the F-15's leave. It's hard to be a fighter community and watch your very cool fighter planes do all these manevors over the city start trickling out. Definitely the C-130's will be a welcomed mission and addition to the Montana Air National Guard with a much different visual for us."
Weissman added, "It's really important to realize that we've maintained a mission. We could have been left without a mission. It's really amazing that we've not only been able to get a mission, a secure mission, for the Montana Air National Guard, but it's also important to realize that it's a flying mission. Montana with its big wide open skies and its great weather, great flying weather -- it's just a perfect place to have a flying mission."