DULUTH, Minn. --
50-years ago, the 179th Fighter Interceptor Squadron (FIS), assigned to the 148th Fighter Group, Minnesota Air National Guard was selected by the National Guard Bureau and Air Defense Command as one of the top F-102A flying units to compete at the William Tell air-to-air weapons meet at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida. 179th FIS Commander, Lt. Col. Al “Ammo” Amatuzio was notified by 148th Fighter Group Commander, Col. Wayne Gatlin that he’d lead Duluth’s William Tell competition team.
William Tell was the U.S. Air Force’s world wide weapons meet that began in 1954 at Las Vegas Air Force Base, Nevada; the base was later renamed Nellis. In 1958, the meet relocated to Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida. In 1961, William Tell was modified to include three jets specifically designed to protect North America. In 1970, there were three teams in each of the three categories of jets competing at William Tell; the F-101B, F-102A and the F-106A.
The 148th flew the Convair F-102 Delta Dagger, commonly referred to as the Deuce, from 1967 to 1971. The F-102 was an American interceptor aircraft that entered service in 1956 primarily to intercept invading Soviet bomber aircraft during the Cold War.
In typical fashion, 148th Operations and Maintenance methodically created a plan for success. Maintenance personnel reviewed analysis records of all F-102A’s and selected the best of the Duluth fleet for the competition. “We dug deep into the data to choose the best and most consistent aircraft,” said Chief Master Sgt. Harlon Huso (ret), a crew chief, who was a technical sergeant at the time of William Tell competition.
Next, Amatuzio selected the pilots who would serve as his team mates. Maj. Ray “Raycee” Sahlstrom, Capt. John “Rev” Broman, and Capt. Ray “Klos” Kloswoski. Captains Dale Vavra and Hollis Nicholson would be alternates in the event one of the pilots had to drop out.
“Another essential planning decision was picking your controllers,” said Brig. Gen. Raymond T. Klosowski (ret). Klosowski, one of the four pilots on the William Tell team. “We all agreed the best weapons controller in the 23rd Air Division was Capt. Robert Barcus,” who was stationed at the Duluth Air Force Base added Klosowski. Barcus recommended Capt. Don McCost from the Backup Intercept Control (BUIC) site in Baudette, Minnesota as the second controller.
For the next three months, the William Tell team of pilots, controllers and maintenance personnel would focus their efforts on practicing the different air defense profiles they may see at Tyndall and ensuring the jets were in pristine condition. In addition to flying training, “pilots and controllers met weekly to analyze potential flying profiles we may face,” said Klosowki. He added “we devoted the time to study and discuss the tactics and employment procedures what would work best against each scenario.”
Avionics and radar experts planned for the humid weather at Tyndall. Electrolytic capacitors and vacuum tubes were replaced. A decision was made not to use canvas aircraft covers that could trap moisture in the F-102s when they were not flying at Tyndall. “Instead, we duct taped the seams of the aircraft after flying to keep the moisture out,” said Huso. “If needed, we ran portable heaters to dry the systems,” Huso added.
36 personnel comprised of 30 maintenance personnel and six pilots traveled to Tyndall. Upon their arrival, Amatuzio briefed 148th members that they would not heavily partake in the social events. “Ammo made it clear we were not here for the party, we were here to win,” said Klosowki. The Duluth News Tribune had sent reporter Jack Tyllia to Tyndall, but “Ammo told us that Col. Gatlin would do the public relations work and that we should focus on flying,” said Brig. Gen. John D. Broman (ret).
Master Sgt. Tom Goar (ret) was one of four Weapons Loaders who traveled to Tyndall. “We were especially careful loading those aircraft,” said Goar. “We didn’t want anything to fail in the air for our aircrew,” Goar added.
Flying missions included day and night electronic counter measures profiles against a B-57 target simulating an enemy bomber with chaff and noise jamming, low altitude intercepts on the TDU-25 target pulled behind an F-101 and AIM-4A radar attacks against a BQM-34 Firebee drone target. There were points awarded for on-time take offs and hitting the targets within pre-established time limits.
All the preparations paid off. The competitive flying ran from Monday, October 26 through Friday, October 30, 1970. The 148th took an early lead in the F-102 category. Midway through the competition torrential rains and targeting problems by competition organizers caused a handful of sorties to be rescheduled. On the last day of flying, the 148th was is an enviable position and needed just four completed sorties to win.
The 148th won the overall F-102 category, the aircrew award, aircraft maintenance award and was the winner of the weapons director award after scoring 11,832 points out of 14,800 possible points. Raycee Sahlstrom was awarded the top pilot distinction for flying a perfect mission and scoring 2,000 of 2,200 possible points during the competition.
The William Tell team was greeted to a hero’s welcome in Duluth on the Sunday following the competition. The C-54 carrying Maintenance personnel and the returning “Red Tails” were greeted by more than 300 family and community members, the Denfeld High School band and local media.
148th Fighter Group, “F-102 Deuce 1967-1971” A Proud Tradition, A Commemorative History of the 148th Fighter Group 1948-1993, 1993
Pukema, Mylii, “William Tell” 148th Fighter Wing 60th Anniversary Expect, Provide and Be the Best, 2008
Tyllia, Jack “Duluth Fighter Wing Must Try Again As Drone Fails”, Duluth News Tribune, Oct. 30, 1970
McChord Air Museum, Foundation William Tell 1970s, Assessed October 9, 2020 from