Photo courtesy of U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. John Hughel

The fighter jets roaring over LC: the 142nd Fighter Wing

What is that? Is it a bird? Is it Superman? No, it is a McDonnell Douglas F-15C Eagle. You might have seen, or more likely heard, these jets flying around Portland and wondered what they are doing exactly. The F-15s flying around Portland are part of the Oregon Air National Guard’s 142nd Fighter Wing, based at our very own Portland International Airport (PDX). 

The 142nd is a unit of the Oregon Air National Guard (OR ANG) under the command of Col. Adam Sitler and, ultimately, Oregon’s governor. Primarily, the 142nd trains and prepares to be deployed as a reserve force for the U.S. Air Force (USAF) when called upon. Additionally, the 142nd provides Aerospace Control Alert (ACA) for the Pacific Northwest. The F-15 Eagle is the sole aircraft that the 142nd flies. 

Sitler made clear that despite being a National Guard unit, the 142nd is just as capable as any other USAF component. 

“We follow the same standards, and (we) train and adhere to really the same overall levels of operational readiness as any active component F-15 unit anywhere within the Air Force,” Sitler said. 

The 142nd primarily trains in two main areas around Oregon. The first, Warning Airspace 570, is out over the Pacific Ocean and is colloquially referred to as the Whiskey 570 airspace. The other is an area in South Central Oregon called the Juniper Heart Military Operations Area. 

In its role as an air superiority fighter, the F-15C either defends air space from an enemy or attack an air space to gain control.

“All that we do is control the air,” Sitler said. “(When we train) we are working on our tactics, our techniques and our procedures to most effectively fly our F-15s.”

As for ACA, the 142nd is also part of the North American Aerospace Command (NORAD), a bilateral defense agreement between the U.S. and Canada. In this role, the 142nd is responsible for air defense for the Pacific Northwest. The 142nd always keeps at least two F-15s ready to scramble at a moments notice. This means that if any aircraft is suspicious, not responding or is unidentified, the 142nd will scramble their aircraft to intercept the subject aircraft. 

On Aug. 10, 2018 a distressed Horizon Air mechanic stole a Bombardier Dash 8 Q400 and flew around the Seattle area. Once alerted to the theft, NORAD directed the alert aircraft of the 142nd to scramble and intercept the subject aircraft and ascertain the intentions of the mechanic. Despite multiple attempts to convince the mechanic to land the aircraft, he crashed after attempting a dangerous aerobatic maneuver. Sitler says that the events of Aug. 10, while tragic, are an example of the kind of unanticipated events where aircraft are needed in the air at a moment’s notice.

“(The incident) demonstrates our ability to respond and the kind of flexibility, the range, and the speed of F-15s to very quickly get up there and then to be eyes on in a situation and describe what is happening to national level command authority,” Sitler said.

 The reason F-15s of the 142nd can sometimes be seen from Lewis & Clark and around Portland is pretty routine. 

“When you see us (around the LC campus) it’s probably us being radar vectored under air traffic control’s authority … (as we are) done with our mission and maneuvering to come back and land,” Sitler said.

For those interested, the 142nd offers occasional base tours. Details can be found on their website or Facebook page.

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