Eagle Charlies Fading, replaced by a hope and a prayer

The 18th Tactical Fighter Wing at Kadena Air Base, Japan, received its first F-15C Eagle on 29 September 1979 with “The Fighting Cocks” of its 67th Tactical Fighter Squadron becoming the first squadron to become fully operational with the big air superiority fighter within the Pacific Air Forces. Now, with the mighty F-15C on its way out of front-line service, the unit is saying goodbye to the big Eagles after an unprecedented 43-year run.

U.S. Air Force F-15C Eagles assigned to the 44th and 67th Fighter Squadrons await clearance for their last take-off from Kadena Air Base, Japan, on Dec. 1, 2022. As a part of its modernization plan, the 18th Wing is retiring its aging fleet of F-15C/D Eagles that have been in service for more than four decades. (U.S. Air Force photo 221201-F-PW483-0008 by Senior Airman Jessi Roth)

The 67th, which just celebrated the 80th anniversary of its first combat, is one of the few who have a Navy Presidential Unit Citation among its lineage, earned flying slow P-400s and P–39s over Guadalcanal supporting Marines in the summer of 1942.

A 67th Fighter Squadron P-400 at Henderson Field in 1942, likely in The Cow Field of Fighter One. Note the same “ZZ” tail flash as they wear today.

To keep it in perspective, the 67th flew no less than 12 different types in the 44 years between the Seversky P–35s at its establishment in 1935 and hanging up its F-4E Phantoms in 1979, giving you a good perspective of just how long the F-15C has been a relevant fourth-generation fighter.

The roughly 48 retrograded F-15C/Ds– all of which have at least 30 years on their frames– will travel to Kingsley Field ANGB in Oregon and some will go on to continue service at various Air Guard ADF units across the U.S. while the rest will head to the boneyard.

To backfill the loss of the old birds, the 3rd Wing at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, sent about a dozen F-22A Raptors to Okinawa on 4 November to begin the first of several six-months rotations while the 18th Wing (likely) transitions to new F-15EX models sometime in 2023-24.

Now I don’t know about you, but swapping 48 forward deployed F-15Cs on the PLAAF/NorkAF doorstep for 12 (ish) rotating F-22s doesn’t sound like a great idea, even if it will just be for a couple of years, but hey…

“While I’m sad to see the F-15 go, it’s important to maintain an advanced fighter presence here in Okinawa,” said Brig. Gen. David S. Eaglin, 18th Wing commander. “Our adversaries have advanced and progressed since 1979 and we must do the same. I look forward to the future as we work through the challenges of divesting an airframe that served admirably as we modernize our defenses and evolve to the threats we face today.”

Meanwhile, the choice to keep an advanced F-15 series platform like the E/F or EX in the islands after 2023 is important for joint interoperability, as the Japan Air Self-Defense Force bought 213 Mitsubishi-built F-15J/DJ Eagles in the 1980s and still flies 150 updated Kai models, making the type their most numerous combat aircraft. Tokyo has committed to a $5 billion program to upgrade 68 of those under the Japan Super Interceptor (JSI) program and keep flying them alongside new (albeit short-ranged) F-35s in an air defense role.

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