DAYTON, Ohio — Those responsible for designing and sustaining a historic airplane will gather this weekend at Hope Hotel and Conference Center to remember — and toast — an achievement worth remembering.
Dubbed the “F-15 Gathering of Eagles 2014,” the event happens Friday through Sunday at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.
The gathering is open to the men and women, civilian and military, who had a hand in the development and maintenance of the McDonnell-Douglas (now Boeing) F-15 Eagle.
These are people who deserve an opportunity to take a bow, said Loren Thompson, chief operating officer of the Lexington Institute, an Arlington, Va.-based national security think tank.
“The F-15 was the greatest fighter produced by any country in the Cold War,” Thompson said.
Leonard Kwiatkowski, a retired Air Force brigadier general living in California and chairman of this year’s gathering, remembered helping guide the F-15 program after arriving in Dayton in December 1969 as a lieutenant.
The contract for the F-15 development program was awarded Dec. 23, 1969. The first F-15 flight happened July 27, 1972. (The Hope Hotel gathering is the 42nd anniversary of that inaugural flight.)
“It was really unprecedented for a program to go from paper to a flying airplane in that period of time,” Kwiatkowski said.
The program stayed on point and in its development budget, “which is pretty amazing,” he said.
Up to then, the Air Force was flying principally the Navy-developed F-4. The team behind the jet meant to be the Air Force’s very own superior fighter remains proud, he said.
“We really had a first-class team of Air Force officers and civilians there at Wright-Patterson,” Kwiatkowski said.
The Wright-Patterson F-15 cadre was the basis of the Gathering of Eagles event. The oldest one he could recall was 1974. Initially, the gatherings were held at five-year intervals, but then organizers realized that those involved in the jet’s genesis were aging.
“This could ultimately become the last one,” said Ron Clement, logistics management specialist at Wright-Patterson for the F-15 Saudi program office. “We’re not sure yet. Because some of the original members are already passed.”
Beside the U.S. Air Force, the F-15 is still built for forces in Saudi Arabia, Israel and Japan, and its suite of avionics is on its fourth generation, Clement said.
“It has an unblemished record of 104 kills to zero by the enemy,” he said. “That’s probably its most significant contribution, I would say.”