The first F–15 arrived at Elmendorf in March and the last of the new aircraft were in place by October. Thanks to special bomb–delivery air–to–surface training carried out in the T–33s, the 21st Tactical Fighter Wing became the first flying unit to reach initial operating capability (IOC) in the F–15 without the assistance of the aircraft manufacturer or a sister flying unit. The 21st made its first intercept of a Soviet intruder, a Tu–95 Bear C, when a pair of F–15s sortied from alert at King Salmon Airport on 24 November 1982.
Over the next four years the F–15s undertook several deployments and exercises such as “Brim Frost,” a U.S. Readiness Command biennial Arctic exercise, and “Team Spirit” held in Japan and the Republic of Korea in 1985. The 21st conducted joint training exercises along the northern continental frontier with the Canadians. All the while, the wing intercepted Soviet bomber, transport and maritime reconnaissance aircraft flying over the Arctic Ocean and Bering Sea.
This creditable service continued throughout the late 1980s from the William Tell Air–to–Air Weapons meets to Combat Archer to DACT training to the Air Force’s “live–fire” Weapon System Evaluation Programs. During one exercise at the remote site known as Deadhorse, Alaska, three F–15s became the first Alaskan–based single–seat fighters to circle the North Pole. The 21st received newer aircraft, its first F–15Cs and Ds in May 1987.
The wing hosted more than one distinguished visitor in 1989. President George Bush stopped at Elmendorf in route to Japan for the state funeral of Japanese Emperor Hirohito and addressed a crowd of over 7,000 in Hangar Five. Ironically, this was the same hangar in which President Richard Nixon had greeted Hirohito eighteen years previously when the emperor had made his first official state visit outside his native land.
Later that year, the wing moved into the escort rather than the intercept business. Two Soviet MiG–29 “Fulcrum” aircraft which were traveling to their first air show in North America, officially visited the 21st at Elmendorf, not only to refuel, but as a gesture of goodwill. This event marked the first time the MiG–29 fighters landed on the continent and the 21st’s aircraft were there to escort them in, help them refuel, and play host.
The final upgrade of the 21st fighter inventory came with the addition of the 90th Tactical Fighter Squadron and the famous F–15E “Strike Eagle” in May 1991. The wing scarcely had completed pilot training on the new fighter–bomber when word of the Air Force Restructuring Program hit the Alaskan theater. The Air Force directed each base to have one wing and one commander; consequently, the wings of Alaskan Air Command consolidated aircraft, personnel and resources under one wing, the 3rd at Elmendorf.