Air-Minded: Tail Numbers

Last week I noticed they’d moved several outdoor aircraft at the Pima Air & Space Museum, opening up a big empty area behind Hangar One.  When I showed up for my tour yesterday there was our F-15A, once hidden in the back reaches of the museum’s 300 acres, newly on display alongside the path between the hangars:

F-15A tail # 74-118 on display at Pima Air & Space Museum (photo: Paul Woodford)

Of course I’m thrilled.  Now, when I escort visitors from Hangar One to Hangar Three I can point to the fighter I flew when I was in the Air Force.  Maybe, if I’m really, really good, they’ll move it inside the hangar some day!

I initially thought I may have flown this actual aircraft.  The tail number is 74-118 (the “74” means it was purchased by the USAF in fiscal year 1974), which could have made it one of the aircraft assigned to Luke AFB in Phoenix, Arizona when I went through F-15 training there during the summer of 1978.

But then I found this photo of a jet that was at Luke then and I see that we trained in 1973 tails.  By the way, the green strips with stars on the tails identify this jet as one assigned to the 555th TFS.  The Triple Nickel was my training squadron, so I definitely flew the Eagle in this photo.  Two other interesting things about this early F-15A: one, it has the original “air superiority blue” paint, which turned out to be not nearly as stealthy as the USAF thought it would be (we called it “tally ho blue,” if that gives you a hint); two, it has the original small speed brake, identified by the humpish fin aft of the canopy, later replaced by a finless and much larger brake.

555th TFS F-15A, tail # 73-090, circa 1978

Okay, we flew 1973-tail F-15As at Luke, so that’s out.  At Soesterberg AB in the Netherlands, where I flew from late 1978 to mid-1982, we had 1977-tail F-15As at first and then transitioned to new 1979-tail F-15Cs.  So that’s out too.

At Elmendorf AFB in Alaska, where I flew from 1982 to 1985, we had older F-15As, and after looking in my photo collection I found this shot of me leading a four-ship.  Notice the sequential tail numbers: 74-092 (which I’m flying) through 74-095 … I remember that as being a huge maintenance flail, getting four sequentially-numbered aircraft ready to fly at the same time, and not only that, they took off the fuselage pylons and external fuel tanks and gave us each a full air-to-air weapons load: four AIM-7M radar-guided missiles and four AIM-9L heat-seeking missiles (you can see the radar missles on the bottom of each jet’s fuselage; the heat-seekers are mounted on pylons under the wings).  That photo shoot was a big-ass deal.  How did it come to pass that I was selected to lead it?  The McDonnell-Douglas factory photographer who flew with us was a buddy of mine, that’s how!

43rd TFS F-15As, tail #s 74-092/093/094/095, sometime in 1983

I don’t remember that Elmendorf’s A model tail numbers ran as high as 74-118, so probably I did not fly the museum’s F-15 after all.  Damn.  But I could be wrong.  Maybe there’s some unit assignment information on the museum’s jet in the reference library stacks.  It would sure be keen if I could tell visitors I flew that particular aircraft.

It turns out I’m the only museum volunteer docent to have flown the F-15.  Naturally, I was asked to give a presentation on the Eagle to the other docents and volunteers; naturally, I agreed.  This probably won’t happen until the fall or winter, so I have plenty of time to prepare.  I hope you, dear reader, won’t mind if I practice here from time to time.

Addendum: Whenever I write war stories about my time in the USAF and the F-15, people tell me how much they enjoy reading them and suggest I write more.  I do write about my flying and military experiences; the trouble with the blog format is that you only see the most recent entries on the front page … older entries are buried in the archives and not that easy to root out.

Well, who loves ya, baby? Me, that’s who! To help you find any and all of my Air-Minded posts, I’ve prepared an index, and placed it prominently on this blog’s left sidebar.

Two additional links: my military history and aviation history.

© 2011 – 2017, Paul Woodford. All rights reserved.


2 thoughts on “Air-Minded: Tail Numbers

  • I think this acft was at Langley AFB, VA at one time. I think I may have worked on it as a maintenance guy back in 1981-1984. I was assigned to the 27th Aircraft Maintenance Unit (AMU)

  • Howdy,
    I worked fuels systems repair at Elmendorf back in ’82-’84. 4 year tour cut short by a drunk driver. You want a hangar queen war story, 74-092 was a good one. She failed a fuel sample test twice in depot. Opened her up to find all the aluminum corroded. Seems a fuel additive didn’t blend well. We spent most, or all, of a year replacing everything from SPR to engine airframe line. Every nut, bolt, washer, pipe…everything. You end up with a jigsaw puzzle of parts, in bags, stacked up, with National Stock Numbers on them for ID. Lay it out on the floor to make sure you have all the parts, then put it in the bird. Been 37 years and I still remember that tail number.
    Ask somebody who knows about the C-130 63-0500 from up there. I know a guy who got the stink eye for writing PIG on its belly right before it was traded to Hurbert Field.

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