The U.S Air Force’s Legendary Fighter Competition ‘William Tell’ Has Returned

William Tell
Some images of William Tell 2023 exercise (All images credit: Howard German, The Aviationist)

U.S. Air Force Hits The mark In Savannah, Georgia, At William Tell 2023 Air to Air Weapons Meet.

William Tell, the U.S Air Force’s legendary fighter competition has returned after a nineteen-year pause, testing the air-to-air skills of the pilots, and rewarding those who performed with excellence. In addition, aircraft maintainers battled it out to determine who is the top weapons load team in the force, along with competition in the intel and command and control sectors.

The Air Force’s first gunnery weapons meet was held at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, in 1949. A revision of the concept behind the weapons meet brought with it a new name, William Tell. In 1954 the inaugural event was held at Yuma County Airport, Arizona and in 1958 it moved to Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida. In 2023 this iconic event was conducted the week of Sept. 11 – 15, at the Air Dominance Center Savannah, Georgia. Hosted by Air Combat Command the competition evaluated F-35, F-22 and F-15 Fighter Integration Teams across the Department of the Air Force, employing Active-Duty, Guard and Reserve airmen in near-peer like competition.

According to Air Combat Command, the approval for restarting William Tell matches the resourcing and efforts by ACC to rapidly modernize air superiority fighters for conflict. Focus will be on developing and valuing elite teams that excel under pressure in various scenarios; developing leaders in areas of critical interest such as Multi Capable Airmen and Agile Combat Employment. Current real-world threats are addressed in William Tell 2023 as the event is designed to be INDOPACOM focused, utilizing 4the and 5th generation aircraft as adversary air.

F-15C’s from the 104th FW, Barnes ANGB being serviced on the ramp at Savannah Intl. Airport

“Air superiority must be achieved; without it all other domains will fail,” said U.S. Air Force Col. Ethan ‘Lefty’ Waitte, William Tell lead judge. “The goal of William Tell is to reinvigorate competition within the Air Force with a focus on air superiority, a critical capability the Air Force provides our nation and one that must never be taken for granted.”

F-15E from the 366th FW Mountain Home AFB, ID being loaded with an AIM-120 AMRAAM

During the week pilots engaged in four aerial events including aerial gunnery, basic fighter maneuvers, air combat maneuvers and a large-force, simulated fighter integration mission where numerous F-22’s, F-15’s and F-35’s battled in coordination against adversaries.

William Tell
F-15C from the 104th FW Barnes ANGB sitting on the ramp prior to the start of the weapons loading competition
F-15E from the 366th FW, Mountain Home AFB departs Savannah runway for the morning mission

As specified by ACC, the air-to-air primary mission tasks performed by the aircrew focused on offensive counter air, defensive counter air and within-visual-range maneuvering. There was a heritage event with live air-to-air gun employment against a towed banner. Additionally, there were also profiles focusing on weapons loading, command and control, and intelligence competitions.

F-16C from the 64th Aggressor Squadron Nellis AFB, NV, departs runway to engage in adversary mission.
F-15E from the 4th FW, Seymour Johnson AFB, NC departs in full-afterburner for the afternoon mission.
F-22 from the 1st FW Langley AFB, VA departs Savannah runway for the morning mission.
F-35A from the 388th FW Hill AFB, UT, carrying an AIM-9X Sidewinder on the outer underwing pylon

The weapons loading competition teams demonstrated their proficiency in a series of timed weapon-loading events given varying conditions and ordnance types. Controllers worked alongside the aircrew, demonstrating battle-management proficiency. The intel teams competed in mission-planning and debrief efficiency.

“Being part of a team is why many of us joined the Air Force.” said Primo, a 90th fighter squadron instructor pilot. “You’re contributing to something larger than yourself. Bringing back William Tell revives a cross-town rivalry competitiveness that makes us better.”

Participating Aircraft/Command & Control

Air Combat Command:

F-15E Strike Eagle

  • 4th Fighter Wing, Seymour-Johnson AFB, NC
  • 366th Fighter Wing, Mountain Home AFB, ID

F-22 Raptor

  • 1st Fighter Wing, Joint Base Langley-Eustis, VA

F-35 Lightning II

  • 388th Fighter Wing, Hill AFB, UT

Pacific Air Forces:

F-22 Raptor

  • 3rd Wing Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, AK (F-22’s supplied by JB Langley)
  • 154th Fighter Wing, Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, HI (F-22’s supplied by JB Langley)

Air National Guard:

F-15 C/D Eagle

  • 104th Fighter Wing, Barnes ANGB, MA

F-35 Lightning II

  • 158th Fighter Wing, Burlington ANGB, VT

C2 Capabilities:

  • 3rd Wing Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, AK
  • 18th Wing, Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, Japan
  • 552 Air Control Wing, Tinker Air Force Base, OK

William Tell Winners

Maj. Richard I. Bong Fighter Integration Trophy

  • 3rd Wing, JB Elmendorf-Richardson, AK (F-22)
  • 366th FW, Mountain Home AFB, ID (F-15E)
  • 388th/419th FWs, Hill AFB, UT (F-35A)

Lt. Col. James H. Harvey, III Top F-15 Wing Award

  • 104th FW, Barnes ANGB, MA (F-15C)

Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker Top F-22 Wing Award

  • 1st FW, JB Langley-Eustis, VA

Brig. Gen. Robin Olds Top F-35 Wing Award

  • 158th FW, Burlington ANGB, VT

Big Eye Task Force Top C2 Wing Award

  • 552nd Air Control Wing, Tinker AFB, OK

Col. Jesse C. Williams Top Intel Tradecraft Wing Award

  • 1st FW, JB Langley-Eustis, VA

CMSGT. Arvol “Pete” Lusse Maintenance Team Award

  • 1st FW, JB Langley-Eustis, VA

Weapons Load Competition Overall Winner

  • 104th FW, Barnes ANGB, MA

Superior Performers – Pilots

  • F -22 – 3rd Wing, JB Elmendorf-Richardson, AK
  • F-35 – 158th FW, Burlington ANGB, VT
  • F-15 – 104th FW, Barnes ANGB, MA

Superior Performers – Maintenance

  • F-22 – 1st FW, JB Langley-Eustis, VA
  • F-35 – 158th FW, Burlington ANGB, VT
  • F-15 – 366th FW Mountain Home AFB, ID

Superior Performers – Intel

  • Mission Support – 3rd Wing, JB Elmendorf-Richardson, AK
  • Top Analyst – 1st FW, JB Langley-Eustis, VA

Superior Performers – C2

  • 3rd Wing, JB Elmendorf-Richardson, AK
William Tell
F-35A from the 158th FW Vermont ANGB, taxies past the Savannah Intl. Airport Control Tower

In conclusion, the teams that take home the shiny trophies and awards are not the only winners at the William Tell 2023 competition. The Department of Air Force reaps huge benefits from the camaraderie, pursuit of excellence and lessons learned at the meet. All in attendance at the Air Dominance Center are looking forward for William Tell to be a regularly scheduled biennial event.

About Howard German
Howard German is a freelance aviation researcher and photographer based in the United States. His main areas of specialty are defense, intelligence, weapons systems and surveillance. He has been writing, archiving and photographing the history and operations of aerospace for over thirty-five years.