After a nearly two-decade hiatus, the United States Air Force successfully completed its first William Tell Air-to-Air Competition earlier this month at the Air Dominance Center in Savannah, Georgia.
Airmen from across active and guard wings participated in William Tell 2023, the first to be held in 19 years. The aerial competition tested aircrew performance in air superiority, weapons and tactics use, weapons loading, maintenance, command and control, intelligence, and weapons director competitions.
The week-long event was also meant to showcase the air-to-air capabilities of the U.S. Air Force’s F-22 Raptor, F-35 Lightning II, and F-15 Eagle and Strike Eagle units representing various Air Combat Command, Pacific Air Force, and Air National Guard units.
The event attracted no shortage of onlookers, who gathered around Tybee Island near Savannah to see the aircraft in action.
And the Winners Were…
Fourteen different teams and individuals won awards at the meet’s closing ceremonies last Friday – and while Air Combat Command identified the wings of the winners, it declined to publicly identify the individual aviators, citing operational security.
The 1st Fighter Wing at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, emerged as the biggest winner in this year’s competition, capturing four trophies; while the 104th Fighter Wing at Barnes Air National Guard Base, Massachusetts, also took home three wins, including the overall weapons load competition, a head-to-head contest against crews with other types of aircraft.
Moreover, even as there were winners, it was safe to say no one was seen as a loser in this year’s competition.
“Rule number one for fierce competitors is when the competition is over, you celebrate and congratulate the winners,” said Gen. Mark Kelly, commander of Air Combat Command.
The 2023 Winners Included:
Major Richard I. Bong Fighter Integration Trophy – 3rd Wing, 366th FW, 388th/419th FW
Big Eye Task Force Top C2 Wing – 552nd ACW
Lieutenant Colonel James H. Harvey, III Top F-15 Wing Award – 104th FW
Captain Eddie Rickenbacker Top F-22 Wing Award – 1st FW
Brigadier General Robin Olds Top F-35 Wing Award – 158th FW
Colonel Jesse C. Williams Top Intel Tradecraft Wing Award – 1st FW
Chief Master Sergeant Argol “Pete” Lusse Maintenance Team Award – 1st FW
Top F-15 Crew Chief – 366th FW
Top F-22 Crew Chief – 1st FW
Top F-35 Crew Chief – 158th FW
F-15 Individual Superior Performer – 104th FW
F-22 Individual Superior Performer – 3rd WG
F-35 Individual Superior Performer – 158th FW
Overall Weapons Load Competition – 104th FW
The Air Force leadership was quick to commend everyone who competed in the event this year.
“Take the camaraderie, lessons learned and the spirit of competition from this week back home,” said Lt. Gen. Russ Mack, deputy commander of Air Combat Command. “Challenge yourselves to improve your units, improve your units to increase mission readiness, and increase mission readiness to develop a culture of competitive endurance.”
Return of the William Tell
The historic competition, which began in 1955 and was named after the legendary Swiss archer, was previously a biennial competition that encouraged the most challenging air-to-air scenarios. However, the meet was placed on hold for the past 19 years because of military operations tempo and contingency requirements.
In April, the U.S. Air Force announced that it would resume the competition while noting that during the 19-year hiatus, the service has grown its fleet to include fifth-generation aircraft, prioritizing integrated fighter tactics as it faces near-peer threats.
The Air Force further announced that William Tell planners believe that resuming the event will foster the exchange of tactics and better prepare Airmen for combat operations against potential adversaries.
“We must keep our adversaries continually arriving at the realization that today is not the day. Not the day to mess with the United States of America and not the day to mess with the U.S. Air Force,” added Mack. “The best in the world and second to none.”
This recent William Tell certainly reaffirmed as much!
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.