The United States Air Force announced on Monday that it will hold its first “William Tell” air-to-air competition in nearly two decades at the Air Dominance Center, Savannah, Georgia, from September 11 to 15. William Tell 2023 will test aircrew performance in air superiority while evaluating weapons use and the tactics used. In addition, the meet includes weapons loading, maintenance, and weapons director competitions.
“I am thrilled about the long-awaited return of the William Tell 23′ Air to Air Competition, after a 19-year absence. This prestigious event brings together the best of the best from various units within the U.S. Air Force, showcasing their skills and expertise in simulated air combat scenarios,” said Gen. Mark Kelly, commander of Air Combat Command.
“Tell” Us More!
The service’s worldwide weapons meet was first held in June 1954 as a separate air-to-air rocketry competition following the larger annual U.S. Air Force Fighter Gunnery and Weapons Meet at Las Vegas Air Force Base, later Nellis AFB.
The Interceptor Phase of the competition was held in Yuma, Arizona, and the Air Defense Command and Air Training Command were the sole competitors. Two years later, the event was unofficially named after legendary Swiss archer “William Tell,” and it expanded to include nine teams representing seven major Air Commands. It became a biennial competition that encouraged the most challenging air-to-air scenarios.
The 1961 event was notable as it included three jets specifically designed for protecting North America that appeared on the flight line: the F-102 Delta Dagger, the F-106 Delta Dart, and the F-101 Voodoo. Four years later, the 1965 “William Tell” was the largest in history with 16 teams competing in four categories, while Canada also became the first foreign country to participate, entering with its CF-101 Voodoo.
Though the event had seen past hiatuses, including one that lasted five years during the Vietnam War, the last William Tell was held in 2004. The annual meet was placed on hold for the past 19 years because of military operations tempo and contingency requirements.
Return of the William Tell
The Air Force further announced this week that William Tell planners now hope that resuming the event will foster the exchange of tactics and better prepare Airmen for combat operations against potential adversaries. The service also noted that in the 19-year hiatus, the Air Force has changed with fighter-integrated tactics, fifth-generation aircraft, and near-peer threats.
This year’s two-week event will showcase the air-to-air capabilities of the F-22, F-35, and F-15 Eagle units representing various Air Combat Command and Pacific Air Force wings and the Air National Guard.
“Air Superiority is not American birth right – it’s a constant fight,” said Maj. Kyle Brown, William Tell competition director. “William Tell 2023 is about resurrecting our heritage, sending us your champions, and competing. The USAF sets the standard for the Air Superiority mission, and it’ll be on display this September at the Air Dominance Center in Savannah GA.”
Whether the Air Force resumes the William Tell competition as a biennial competition isn’t known yet, but this year it will be about highlighting that U.S. Air Force pilots can have their skills tested by engaging in the most challenging air-to-air scenarios anywhere in the world.
“Our unwavering commitment to air dominance remains steadfast, as we pursue and push the boundaries of innovation and excellence,” added Gen. Kelly. “As we participate in the long-awaited return of the William Tell competition, we reiterate our steadfast dedication to maintaining control of the skies in support of our Joint Force and multi-national partners.”
Author Experience and Expertise: A Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.