Wisconsin Air Guard bids farewell to RC-26 mission

  • Published
  • By Capt. Leslie Westmont
  • 115th Fighter Wing

Pilots assigned to the 115th Fighter Wing in Madison bid farewell to the Wisconsin Air National Guard’s RC-26B reconnaissance aircraft after its final flight returned to Truax Field, Dec. 28, 2022.

The departure was part of the U.S. Air Force’s decision to retire all 11 of its RC-26Bs nationwide.

A group of seven 115th FW pilots and two Military Information Support Operators (MISOs), were detailed to support the counterdrug mission by flying the RC-26, supporting both state and federal counter narcotics, counter insurgency and homeland security missions. 

Lt. Col. Benjamin West, Wisconsin RC-26 Program Manager, expressed his appreciation for all the members of his team.

“The hours and the expertise of all of the aircrew is just surreal,” said West.  “Officers, civilians, suspects, families and regular citizens who have no idea that the reason that they are alive is because those guys were experts at their jobs, helped chase down and arrest drug dealers, in ways that could not have been done in any other platform.”

The RC-26 has been an integral part of the National Guard’s Counterdrug Program.  In its domestic operations role, the RC-26 and its crew have provided an ‘eye in the sky’ to law enforcement with observation support, including identifying and tracking suspects.  This specific support alleviated the need for law enforcement to engage in high-speed pursuits, one of the leading causes of deaths for law enforcement officers in the nation.  It has also, provided covert support, which assists law enforcement agencies in gathering evidence that can ultimately lead to takedowns of drug trafficking organizations.

Col. Paul Felician, director of the Wisconsin National Guard’s Counterdrug Program has served as a law enforcement officer for over 29 years.   

“Having spent a large time of my policing career in narcotics work, and I can tell you that this mission saves people’s lives,” said U.S. Army Col. Paul Felician, director of the Wisconsin National Guard’s Counterdrug Program who has served as a law enforcement officer for over 29 years.  “The stuff that this aircraft enabled law enforcement to do took more drugs off the street and kept people safe from having to go into the direct risk of harm, it’s a sad day to see it go away.”

While most of the focus of the RC-26 mission has been on supporting law enforcement agencies, the pilots also reflected on the occasions where they helped other agencies during natural disasters, including Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Maria.

“On the counter drug side, we have helped law enforcement follow individuals,” said Lt. Col Adam Kinzinger who has been a RC-26 pilot for over 15 years.  “In a post hurricane situation, after Hurricane Katrina or in Puerto Rico, you can go up and we can downlink that video to people on the ground so they can see from the air what’s been damaged, who needs rescuing, and they can coordinate from there.”

Unlike the active-duty military, the National Guard provides a unique dual-purpose mission by supporting both world-wide deployments and communities here at home.  The dedication of the pilots, MISOs, and maintenance crews on the RC-26 have shown the true nature of this sometimes underrecognized mission.

“These are our people, in our home, every single day, “said Felician. “I can’t think of any more meaningful work for a soldier or a guardsman to do because it is directly helping and impacting our people, Wisconsinites and Americans.”