The Oregon Air National Guard (ANG) unit based at Portland International Airport opened its doors to the general public to show how they operate. Rob Edgcumbe headed to Oregon for GAR to see what was on display.
Most military units operate at dedicated facilities, often a reasonable distance from the local community. However, that is not always the case and some share an airport with the local community. In the case of the Oregon ANG’s 142nd FW, the Redhawks, this is not at a small municipal airport. They are located at Portland International Airport, PDX. This airport has two runways and a steady stream of commercial traffic to destinations across the US and overseas.
The Redhawks operate from a compound on the south side of the airport adjacent to the southerly of the two runways. Here are based their F-15C/D Eagles which are primarily tasked with the air defence of the Pacific Northwest region. The unit has operated from PDX since the 1940s although there was a time when it was federalised during the Korean War and it moved to Illinois. Various aircraft have passed through the unit and entering the base you pass examples of these types. An F-15A is mounted on a plinth as you come through the main gate, while an F-4C Phantom and an F-101B Voodoo are displayed inside the base, all adorned with Redhawks markings.
The unit held an Open House in September in order to share a little of what they do with the local community. Being based at such a major airport close to the centre of a large city means that the unit is more conspicuous than many. On a normal day, two or three waves of jets will launch with the first often heading out at around 8:30 am, a possible wave in mid-morning and the last around lunchtime. These operations are interwoven with the normal operations of the airport. These aircraft have a slightly different climb out profile to the passenger jets and the airliners don’t traditionally mimic their run in and break overhead the field.
The aircraft were the star turn at the Open House. Two F-15Cs had been brought into the public enclosure. One was out on the ramp where everyone was free to wander around it. A second was pulled in to the hangar with ladders to the cockpit. A long line was always in evidence as people waited their turn to check out the office routinely occupied by the ANG pilots. Meanwhile, a spare engine was available to check out and an extensive selection of captive training missile rounds were to hand.
These missiles also provided part of the demonstrations of unit capabilities. The jet parked on the ramp was used as a training exercise for the armourers. They loaded the jet with six AMRAAMs, one AIM-9M and one AIM-9X. Not only was this a demonstration for the visitors but it was also a training exercise. All the armament crews are required to demonstrate a timed load out task every 90 days so this was their assessment exercise. A pair of evaluators were watching their every move as they prepared the jet and loaded it up.
The team of three moved swiftly around the jet preparing the pylons and the actuators for the missiles to come. Two of the team were carrying out the work while a third was checking their work and verifying every step using a checklist on an iPad. They then combined to lift the two Sidewinders up to the pylons by hand. The AMRAAMS were loaded using ground equipment and the process of adding the appropriate fins, lifting the missile from the rack, located it on the aircraft and then completing the fin installation was carried out swiftly. One of the observers noted that, when a team first starts learning to load a jet they may take over two hours to do it. During their training, they will spend six weeks carrying out the loading exercise over and over again and will be down to something of the order of forty minutes by the time they complete the training.
The jets may have been the main attraction but the other units that are based at PDX also were on display. This included rescue units and units that deal with emergency situations. Plenty of children took the opportunity to dress up in hazmat suits used for dealing with chemical spills. The hugely oversized suits looked comical as the small children tried to fit into them and then walk around while overloaded.
The presence of the visitors did not mean that operations were stopped. A line of sun shelters was off to one side of the public area and a few waves of jets fired up and launched during the course of the morning. The jets taxied out a short distance away and disappeared off to the far end of the runway. They were airborne long before they got back level with the public but they kept things nice and low before pulling up into a rapid climb. Their return included a break overhead the base prior to landing and stopping for checks in front of everyone and then returning to the shelters.
It appears that the unit was also preparing for a busy flying programme. Ground crew were setting up on the ramp just outside the public area with ladders for eight F-16s being put in place. It was explained that an F-16 unit was inbound from Texas for a week of dissimilar air combat training with the Redhawks. Two C-17s landed just before lunch bringing ground crew, spare aircrew and the support material for the week. Sadly, the F-16s did not arrive prior to the end of the Open House. Hopefully the week will provide some good training for all involved.
The open house was a good effort at keeping the local community engaged with the work that the ANG undertakes as well as the other resident units at PDX. The weather was very nice which certainly encouraged a good level of attendance and I suspect all involved considered it a successful day.