GREAT FALLS, MONT. — The first of 20 F-15 fighter jets assigned to the Montana Air National Guard has left Great Falls for Fresno, Calif., as the 120th Fighter Wing begins changing its mission.
One fighter left Tuesday, four more are scheduled to leave over the next few weeks and seven more will move in September. The final eight will move around October, said Col. Pete Hronek, 120th commander.
Equipment related to the F-15s is also being moved to California.
MANG also is preparing for eight C-130 cargo planes that are expected to start arriving this fall.
Hronek told the Great Falls Tribune that an environmental assessment needs to be completed, crew members need training and some construction needs to be done.
The Pentagon has estimated the total cost of the transition at about $48 million, plus construction costs, but Hronek said it could be higher because of training costs.
The mission change is expected to cost MANG 45 full-time jobs and 35 part-time jobs.
About half of the MANG pilots are leaving the unit to keep flying F-15s or F-16s, said Col. Shane Sanders, operations group commander at the 120th.
The unit will be down to 14 pilots but will need about 40 for the C-130 mission.
That means the unit will hire pilots over the next few years as well as other flight crew positions such as co-pilot, navigator and loadmaster. Some F-15 pilots will undergo the seven months of training needed to fly a C-130, Sanders said.
The transition marks the end of 66 years of flying fighter aircraft in Great Falls.