Museum’s new F-15 salutes Oregon’s finest
When the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum’s newest aircraft, a McDonnell-Douglas (Boeing) F-15A Eagle was dedicated late last year, it joined a growing collection of aircraft types that share the distinct honor of having served with the Oregon Air National Guard. Along with the P-51D, F-102A, T-33A and F-4C, the F-15A helps trace the history of the 123rd Fighter Squadron, which is celebrating the 70th anniversary of its founding this year.
The idea of a state-controlled National Guard is a uniquely American concept, with roots stretching back to the first shots of the Revolutionary War. Ever since, state run militias have provided citizen-soldiers for every one of America’s conflicts, and it was only natural that when aviation became a part of the military, that the guardsmen would serve there too. In Oregon, the effort to create an aviation unit began in April, 1939, when President Roosevelt proposed an expansion for the Army Air Corps that included ten new observation squadrons for the National Guard. 2nd Lt. Robert Dodson, who had been flying as a reservist at Pearson Field, requested the creation of a new unit, telling the Air Corps “We’ve got people, we’ve got a place, and we’re ready!” Promoted to Major, Dodson enlisted 117 men at the Swan Island Airport and they were officially designated the 123rd Observation Squadron on April 18, 1941. They received federal funding and erected a hangar to begin operations with O-47 observation aircraft and BC-1 training aircraft.
Within five months, the 123rd was called to active duty and moved to Gray Field, at Fort Lewis, Washington to perform anti-submarine patrols along the Pacific Northwest coast. Then in April, 1944, they received news that they were going overseas. Equipped with F-5s, the photo recon version of the P-38 Lightning, and re-designated the 35th Photo Reconnaissance Squadron, the unit headed into combat for a year and a half in the China-Burma-India Theater.
After peace returned to the world, the 123rd was re-instated under the control of the Oregon National Guard at the Portland International Airport. Now designated a fighter squadron, the 123rd was equipped with P-51D Mustangs, and became part of the Air National Guard when the Air Force became a separate service in 1947. Over the next sixty years, the 123rd would change aircraft many times, from the P-51 Mustang to the F-86 Sabre, the F-94 Starfire, the F-89 Scorpion, the F-102 Delta Dagger, the F-101 Voodoo, and the F-4 Phantom. In 1990 they transitioned to the F-15 Eagle, which they still fly today.
The F-15 on display, serial # 73-0089 had a very lengthy career with both the Air Force and Air National Guard (ANG). It was the 6th production F-15 built at the McDonnell-Douglas plant in St. Louis, and was the 23rd F-15 to enter service with the US Air Force. (A total of 17 prototype and pre-production aircraft are included in that number.) It spent the first decade of its life stationed at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, serving with the 555th TFTS and 405th TFS in the training role, before being handed over to the 122nd TFS of the Louisiana Air National Guard. Six years later, it went back to the active Air Force and served in Iraq with the 9th TFS for combat operations during 1991. It then came back home to serve with the Georgia Air National Guard, before traveled back to New Orleans with the 122nd and finally on to the Oregon ANG in 1994 for the last 15 years of its life.
At the time of its retirement in 2009, #0089 was the oldest, longest serving F-15 in the United States Air Force inventory. It was turned over to the National Museum of the United States Air Force, for preservation at Evergreen, and made ready for display by volunteers from the 123rd FS under the leadership of Chief Master Sergeant John Rasmussen. She certainly had a great run, and it is wonderful to see her preserved in the museum where she proudly reflects on the history of Oregon’s own; the 123rd Fighter Squadron.