Gunsmoke: Revolutionized

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Tabatha McCarthy
  • 57 Wing Public Affairs

U.S. Air Force Weapons School (USAFWS) squadrons and various maintenance and special operations units competed in Gunsmoke at Nellis AFB, May 15.

The purpose of the legacy competition was to demonstrate the capabilities of both jet and conventional fighter aircraft accuracy in bombing and gunnery.

In May 1949, the base, then known as Las Vegas AFB, hosted the first USAF Worldwide Fighter Gunnery Meet, later nicknamed “Gunsmoke.”

This air-to-air and air-to-ground competition was between teams representing major commands; Air Training Command, Tactical Air Command, and Strategic Air Command, as well as other fighter bases throughout the world.

Events within the competition at that time consisted of air-to-air and air-to-ground gunnery, dive and skip bombing, and rocketry.

Fast forward 70 years, and not only has technology advanced but so have military operations and capabilities. Though the overall Gunsmoke air-to-air and air-to-ground competition has remained the same, USAFWS opened up the contest to the 57th Maintenance Group and special operations forces.

“Gunsmoke has traditionally provided bragging rights through the years to pilots and crews through one-on-one aerial competitions,” said Col. Steven Behmer, USAFWS commandant. “We’ve adapted the event to incorporate our maintenance, munitions, and special ops Airmen to boost esprit de corps through integrated teamwork.”

Overall, the competition has not only incorporated multiple units and career fields but allowed instructors at USAFWS to get out and fly. 

“(Gunsmoke) has recently been resurrected as a USAFWS competition mirroring (the original) construct,” said Maj. Daniel Hendren, instructor pilot, 17th Weapons Squadron.

The competition proved that effective teamwork is vital in order to meet mission requirements.

“Teamwork comes in the form of shared success and failure,” said Behmer. “This year, the competition will crown the best squadron and aircraft maintenance unit (AMU) based on how well they perform maintenance and operations. Ops cannot win without maintenance, nor the opposite.”

For most of the career fields participating in Gunsmoke, the competition gave them an opportunity to shine in their everyday operations.

“While we push ourselves for Gunsmoke, we operate daily at the same high level of excellence,” said Capt. Kyle Briney, officer in charge, 57th Tomahawk AMU.

Gunsmoke nor any other Air Force mission could solely on maintenance and pilots alone. In order to be a success, other career fields such as JTAC, Rescue Squadron, missileers, space operators, along with different AMU’s of a variety of aircraft came together to achieve the several mission objectives.

“(This competition) allows us as instructors to maximize what the aircraft is capable of,” said Tech Sgt. Justin Geiger, JTAC instructor, 66th Weapons Squadron.

Geiger and his team’s objectives for the competition were to see how accurate they could be with ground-based lasing of inert GBU-12 bombs onto a specific target located on the range. They also provided situational awareness to the aircraft running the overall event in the sky, as well as what happening on the ground.

“Gunsmoke exercises maintainers’ abilities to deliver combat-ready aircraft on time, and challenges (ground) operators to timely and accurately employ weapons on targets with minimal time between target nomination, to target destruction,” said Behmer.

Through competition, all players took away a more powerful meaning of teamwork to accomplish the mission.

“I think it has been largely successful in its effort to give USAFWS instructors a chance to compete against the best aircrews in the world,” said Hendren. “Any chance we get to work together and fly with each other is a good opportunity to become experts at integration.”