#97-0219 taxies out from the flightline at RAF Lakenheath
Known as the 'Grim Reapers', the squadron was recognised as the best air superiority fighter squadron in the U.S Air Force in 1997 and 1999. From the 1998 USAFE Squadron of the Year honours to the present day, the 493rd Fighter Squadron has continued to be recognised, most recently as the Air Force's top fighter squadron for its extensive work intercepting Russian aircraft in Baltic air space. The squadron was awarded the Raytheon Trophy for 2014, which has been awarded every year since 1953 for the top fighter squadron in the U.S Air Force and it is now proudly displayed in the squadron building. The 'Grim Reapers' had a busy 2014 in which they accomplished a rotation as part of the Icelandic Air Policing mission and rapidly deployed to Lithuania to assist in the Baltic Air Policing mission, as Russia encroached on NATO airspace. During their deployment to Lithuania, the squadron's F-15Cs were on alert for 2,856 hours. They flew 480 alert lines, 221 armed over-watch sorties and 22 active air scrambles, intercepting 31 Russian Federation aircraft that violated Baltic airspace. With its rich history, the 'Grim Reapers' have shown time and time again that they deliver like no other squadron in the Air Force. With leading maintenance stats and air-to-air victories on the field of battle, the 493rd has proven that when you need the best air superiority squadron, you dial '911 Reaper.'
History of RAF Lakenheath and the 48th Fighter Wing; Construction of the airfield proper at Lakenheath began in late 1940, opening as a satellite field to Mildenhall in November 1941. The airfield was initially used by the Royal Air Force flying Stirling and Wellington bombers until mid-1944, then remaining devoid of aircraft until the U.S. Air Force's 2nd Bombardment Group brought in 30 Boeing B-29 Superfortress heavy bombers in August 1948 as a 'show of force' to the Soviet Union. From 1948 onwards a number of Strategic Air Command (SAC) bomber and fighter units rotated through the base until 15th January 1960 when the first of 60 North American F-100D Super Sabres of the 48th Fighter Wing arrived from Chaumont, France. RAF Lakenheath continued to serve as a rotational base for SAC B-47 and B-52 bombers until mid-1963.
The Pratt & Whitney FW100-PW in full flow on the test rig
We would like to thank everyone at RAF Lakenheath for their assistance in helping us complete this article, but particularly the following people;
Sgt. Erik Burks (48FW Public Affairs)
SrA Trevor McBride (48FW Public Affairs)
493rd Fighter Squadron
Personnel of 48th Component Maintenance Squadron (48 CMS)
The F-15E or 'Mud-Hen' as it is known colloquially, is operated by two squadrons at RAF Lakenheath, the 492nd Fighter Squadron 'Madhatters' and the 494th Fighter Squadron 'Panthers'. As with the 493rd FS, both units had previously flown the North American F-100D, the McDonnell F-4D Phantom and the General Dynamics F-111F.
As well as being a MiG-killer, #84-0027 is also marked up as the 493rd FS Commander's aircraft
Interested in the types of missions they fly at Lakenheath on a day to day basis I asked him if he could give us an insight into their regular sorties. "Generally the missions we fly last between 45 minutes to 2 and a half hours depending on what we are doing - 1v1, BFM (basic flight manoeuvres). We do that just north of the field, some 20 miles away. We also go to the 3-2-3 Complex about 100 miles north-east, which is about 120-140 miles long by 80 miles wide. There we do long-range stuff and 'work' our radars. We do defensive counter-air, offensive counter-air and tactical intercepts. We can also do BFM, ACM and 2 v 1; what we do on a daily basis varies." He told us that the squadron regularly flies with the F-15E Strike Eagles and also conducts DACT (Dissimilar Air Combat Training) with both Royal Air Force Typhoons and Dutch F-16s from time to time. I asked him about his experiences with the British Typhoons. "They fight the same fight as we do, a lot of the same tactics. They have a lot of power and manoeuvrability, so if we are carrying our drop tanks they have a big advantage over us. They play by the same set of rules as we do, it's fun to play with those guys."
Although still in use with many air forces around the world, the Lockheed-Martin AN/AAQ-33 Sniper Advanced Targeting Pod (ATP) pod has now completely replaced the older AN/AAQ-14 LANTIRN on the F-15Es at Lakenheath. Used in conjunction with the AN/AAQ-13 navigation pod, Sniper's two-way video datalink for communicating with forward-deployed forces, superior imagery, and weapon-quality co-ordinates allows pilots to make rapid targeting decisions. Sniper contains a laser designator and tracker for laser-guided bombs and the pod also features a third generation Forward Looking Infra-Red (FLIR) receiver and a Charge Coupled Device (CCD) television camera. The FLIR allows observation and tracking in low light/no light situations, while the CCD camera allows the same functions during day time operations. The Sniper pod greatly improves the aircraft’s long-range target detection and identification, providing a capability that is ten times more accurate than the 1980s technology of the LANTIRN, with three times the recognition range and twice the resolution. Sniper can also acquire targets at altitudes of up to 50,000 feet, versus the 25,000 feet typical of the LANTIRN pod.
Four kills were achieved in the space of three days during Operation Allied Force, whilst operating as the 493rd Expeditionary Fighter Squadron (493 EFS) from Cervia Air Base, Italy. The first kill was achieved on 24th March 1999 when Lt. Colonel Cesar 'Rico' Rodriguez shot down a Serbian Air Force Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG.29 over Bosnian air space.
Grim Reapers F-15Cs waiting their turn to refuel from a KC-135R Stratotanker
#86-0159 departs RAF Lakenheath; its single 'MiG kill' marking visible below the cockpit
Photographed from Lakenheath's control tower, this F-15C pulls up after a missed approach on Runway 24
The AN/AAQ-13 navigation pod contains a terrain-following radar and a fixed infrared sensor, which provides a visual cue and input to the aircraft's flight control system, enabling it to maintain a preselected altitude above the terrain and avoid obstacles. This sensor displays an infrared image of the terrain in front of the aircraft on the pilots head-up display (HUD). The navigation pod enables the pilot to fly along the general contour of the terrain at high speed, using mountains, valleys and the cover of darkness to avoid detection. The AN/AAQ-14 targeting pod contains a high-resolution, forward-looking infrared sensor, a laser designator-rangefinder for precise delivery of laser-guided munitions, a missile boresight correlator and software for automatic target tracking.
Top-side view of a Lakenheath F-15E Strike Eagle
So What Does the Future Hold? Well the good news is that despite the recent announcement regarding the proposed closure of nearby RAF Mildenhall, there are no plans for Lakenheath to suffer similar consequences. If anything in fact, RAF Lakenheath will expand in the future, certainly in terms of aircraft numbers. The U.S. Air Force announced in January 2015 that they have selected RAF Lakenheath to be the first base in Europe to house the new Lockheed-Martin F-35A Lightning II, with their arrival expected in 2020. The changes are a result of the U.S. Defense Department's European Infrastructure Consolidation (EIC) plan, a two-year-long study into downsizing the number of sites and facilities being used by U.S. forces in Europe. Two squadrons of the F-35A, each with 24 aircraft will be based at Lakenheath, alongside the two current F-15E Strike Eagle squadrons. However, the 493rd Fighter Squadron's F-15C/D Eagles are scheduled to be withdrawn by around 2017. Having been expected to be withdrawn in 2014 this news came as no real surprise. The recent conflict in the Ukraine and the ongoing need to reinforce NATO's eastern flank around the Baltic states had given the unit a temporary stay of execution. Whether the 493rd will reform in the future at Lakenheath as one of the two F-35 squadrons is as yet unknown, but with the squadron's rich history it would not surprise anyone and we can only hope that the Grim Reapers continue their illustrious relationship alongside the other squadrons at Lakenheath.
'The Liberty Wing'
A close-up of the 'MiG-Kill' markings on a 48thFW F-15C Eagle
Flying in #86-0169 as 'Knife 13', he engaged the aircraft with an AIM-120 AMRAAM, adding to two previous kills gained during Operation Desert Storm in 1991, when he successfully engaged a MiG.23 and another MiG.29 whilst assigned to the 33rd Tactical Fighter Squadron/33rd Tactical Fighter Wing. The second kill on the same day was awarded to Capt. Michael Shower, flying as 'Edge 61' in #86-0159 (seen in the photo below), who also took down a Serbian MiG.29 with an AIM-120 air to air missile. The two pilots of the Serbian MiG.29s serialed #18112 and #18111 from 127 Fighter Squadron, were Maj. Ilijo Arizanov (18112) and Maj. Nebojsa Nikolic (18111), both of whom ejected from their aircraft safely. Two days later, Capt. Jeffery 'Claw' Hwang scored two more Serbian MiG.29 kills whilst flying in 86-0156 as 'Dirk 21'. As with the two previous kills by his colleagues two days earlier, Hwang took out both aircraft with AIM-120s. The two aircraft shot down were serialed 18113 & 18114, flown by Lt Col. Slobodan Peric (#18114, who ejected and survived) and Capt. Zoran Radosavljevic (#18113, who sadly died in the incident).
Of the aircraft detailed above, #86-0169 is the only aircraft that is no longer extant, having been lost in an accident on the 26th March 2001. Piloted by Lt Col. Kenneth Hyvonen, it crashed with #86-0180 flown by Capt. Kirk Jones during a low-fly exercise in the Cairngorms, Scotland. The two aircraft crashed into Ben MacDui during a heavy snow storm with the loss of both pilots. Of the other four aircraft mentioned, #84-0010 shot down an Iraqi Sukhoi SU-22 on 22nd March 1991 whilst with the 53rd TFS, #84-0015 was credited with a 'kill' on a PC-9 after the pilot bailed out on 22nd March 1991 whilst with the 53rd TFS, #84-0019 scored two Iraqi Air Force Sukhoi SU-25s on 6th February 1991 whilst operating with the 53rd TFS and #84-0027 shot down an Iraqi MiG.23 and a Mirage F.1 on 19th January 1991, again operating with the 53rd TFS.
The 48th FW is comprised of three fighter squadrons, the 493rd Fighter Squadron (FS) equipped with the F-15C Eagle and deployed in the air superiority role, along with the 492nd FS and 494th FS, both flying the two-seat F-15E Strike Eagle. With the Eagle assigned to the air superiority role, the Strike Eagle has the dual capability of providing both ground attack and air superiority roles. At one time the F-15E crews were trained to provide a ground attack capability with both nuclear and conventional weapons, however whilst the Strike Eagle still retains the capability to deliver nuclear weapons, the 48th FW as with all other U.S. Air Force F-15E units has relinquished this task and no longer trains in the role.
Air to Air with the 48th Fighter Wing
Much like the predatory bird that it takes its name from, the Eagle belongs in the air, so what better place to 'shoot' them? We've had the pleasure to catch both Eagles and Strike Eagles over Air-to-Air Refuelling Area 8 (AARA-8) off the east coast of the United Kingdom whilst they were working with the Boeing KC-135R Stratotankers of the 100th Air Refueling Wing (ARW) from RAF Mildenhall. A common haunt of the 48th Fighter Wing when they are working with their 100th ARW compatriots, the F-15s at Lakenheath and the KC-135R Stratotankers keep both sets of aircrew current in the crucial art of aerial refuelling, at the same time ensuring a vital part of providing air dominance and a global strike capability is maintained to the highest standard possible.
The first three F-111Fs landed at Lakenheath 1st March 1977. In conjunction with the F-111s arrival, USAFE activated the 495th TFS on 1st April, 33 years to the day since the squadron’s inactivation. The 495th’s mission was to function as a replacement training unit for the other three squadrons, making the wing unique in two ways. First, it made the 48th the only combat unit in USAFE with four squadrons and furthermore, it made the 48th the only wing operating with its own replacement training unit. On 1st October 1991, the 48th TFW was re-designated the 48th Fighter Wing (FW) and the 492rd, 493rd, and 494th became simply Fighter
F-15E Strike Eagle in 492nd FS markings conducting pattern work at RAF Lakenheath
The Test Cell is located close to the 493rd Fighter Squadron's shelter area, and we had the privilege of observing a Pratt & Whitney FW100 engine undergo some testing on the static rig located there. To stand within a couple of feet of one of these engines at full throttle, with afterburner is without doubt something to behold and will live long in the memory. 29,160lbs of thrust in full afterburner just feet away from you with just clean air between you and the exhaust. Words cannot describe the noise, power and experience!
"Having completed my training on the T-6 and T-38, I went to Klamath Falls, Oregon, where all F-15 training is now carried out with the 142nd Fighter Wing, which involved me flying about 70 hours in the aircraft. Since joining the squadron here I have flown in the Baltics, Iceland, Turkey (Anatolian Eagle) and Bulgaria (Thracian Eagle 2014). The air policing in Lithuania is a NATO alert tasking and we were there to make contact with aircraft in controlled airspace, our job being to intercept and visually identify them. We initially took four jets to Lithuania, then we did the big 'plus-up' and took eight more. So we then stopped all flying here (at Lakenheath) and we did all our flying out there." I asked him about his personal experiences of intercepts during the Baltic Air Policing mission at Šiauliai. "I did three scrambles, with two actual intercepts, both of which were IL-20 'Coots' (the Ilyushin IL-20 is a Russian ELINT reconnaissance aircraft), but other guys intercepted a variety of aircraft. Our orders were to scramble, conduct a non-threatening intercept on the contact, pull up alongside it and report back. We would then escort them back towards the Russian border and then we'd head home." Asked about the Icelandic Air Policing role he told us that the squadron had also taken four F-15s to Keflavik, Iceland, but they had never actually had the need to scramble on anyone.
48th Fighter Wing
United States Air Forces Europe
A Lakenheath Strike Eagle closes in on the High-speed Refuelling Boom of the KC-135 tanker aircraft
A 'Panthers' F-15E Strike Eagle formates alongside a 100ARW KC-135R off the east coast of the United Kingdom
With the 48FW and 100ARW's bases being so close to one another, they regularly conduct air to air refuelling training together
This F-15E Strike Eagle seen on approach to Runway 24 at RAF Lakenheath is from the 494th Fighter Squadron
No sooner had crews familiarised themselves with the new Phantoms when the Air Force announced that Lakenheath would be the new location for the General Dynamics F-111F, Aardvark. The F-111F, with its sophisticated avionics, state-of-the-art weapons delivery and extended range, would provide USAFE and NATO with an unparalleled strike capability. The transition was part of a three-way aircraft transfer. The wing received its complement of F-111Fs from the 366th TFW at Mountain Home Air Force Base (AFB), Idaho; Nellis AFB transferred its F-111As to Mountain Home, while Nellis received Lakenheath's complement of F-4Ds.
The McDonnell-Douglas F-15A first flew in 1972, followed by the F-15B in 1973, F-15C and F-15D in 1979 and F-15E in 1986. Over one thousand F-15s were delivered to the Air Force and it still provides service to both USAF and Air National Guard units in considerable numbers, albeit gradually being withdrawn as the Lockheed-Martin F-22A Raptor enters frontline service. Designed as an all-weather tactical fighter, with the intention of providing total air supremacy, it has been proven in a number of conflicts. During the Balkans War, F-15s shot down four Serbian MiG-29s and were responsible for 34 of the 37 kills on fixed-wing aircraft during the first Gulf War.
A 494th FS Strike Eagle gets the once over prior to a mission on 17th August 2015
Fight your way in, destroy the target and fight your way out is what it's all about if you're a Strike Eagle driver. The Strike Eagle made its first flight in 1986, with the USAF ordering a total of 227 of the type. Achieving IOC in September 1989, the first F-15E arrived at RAF Lakenheath on 21st February 1992 and has supported numerous U.S and NATO-led missions from Operation Provide Comfort in 1993 to Operations Odyssey Dawn and Unified Protector in 2011. Using a two man crew of a pilot and a weapon systems officer (WSO), the E- model is a dual-role aircraft and has the capability to fight its way to a target over long ranges, destroy enemy ground positions and fight its way home without the need for supporting fighter aircraft such as the F-15C.
"We are Liberty" is the motto of the 48th Fighter Wing (FW) at RAF Lakenheath, arguably the most potent aerial fighting force in the whole of Europe. Equipped with the McDonnell-Douglas (now Boeing) F-15C/D Eagle and F-15E Strike Eagle, the 48th FW comes under the auspices of the United States Air Forces Europe and fulfils its NATO responsibilities by providing a combat ready fighter wing, capable of projecting global air power wherever needed and at a moment's notice. The 48th FW is the last remaining U.S. Fighter Wing in the United Kingdom and one of only two frontline U.S. Air Force units still flying the F-15C/D version of the Eagle (the other being the 18th Wing at Kadena Air Base, Japan).
Topping up its fuel tanks, the Weapons Systems Operator keeps a close eye on the refuelling boom from his rear seat
492nd FS F-15E seen passing RAF Lakenheath's control tower
Finally, I asked him about his experiences at Red Flag. "It was good, we put 70-80 airplanes in the air at once. We were up at 30-35,000ft, it's very realistic as far as the electronic attack they have, comms jamming, the AWACS (Boeing E-3 Sentry) they have up there. There's real B-2s, real F-16s up there, nothing notional about it, so it's an awesome experience. We flew both defensive and offensive counter-air. Defensively we have a point we are defending, it's our job to keep 'Red Air' from getting their strikes in. Offensively, generally we have a target set. We push in and try and clear out every enemy defence so that the strike package can move in, get their bombs on target and then we escort them back out."
Finally I asked him what it's like to fly the Eagle. "It's a blast to fly, like a sports car in the sky. Everything you ever dreamed of and more. The aircraft is easy to fly, take-offs and landings are simple, the difficult part is that you can't open a book in the sky. So you have to learn everything, such as how to handle emergencies and run tactics. Once you have learned to fly the aircraft it takes another 6-7 months just to do this. If I look at where I am now and where I was when I came here it is a world away".
Unique in that it flies both the Eagle and Strike Eagle side by side, change is afoot for the Liberty Wing, with the F-15C/Ds slated for withdrawal in 2017 and the wing scheduled to receive 48 Lockheed-Martin F-35A Lightning IIs from 2020 to equip two squadrons and continue operations alongside the F-15E Strike Eagle units. Jetwash Aviation Photos has worked in conjunction for some time with the 48th Fighter Wing and brings you an up to date report on past, present and future operations.
Using the latest Raytheon AIM-9X Sidewinder missile, its infrared guidance systems can be used day or night. The AIM-9X missile's main improvement over previous AIM-9 models is its compatibility with the Joint Helmet-Mounted Cueing System (JHMCS). The Boeing manufactured JMHCS combines a magnetic head tracker with a display projected onto a pilot's visor, giving the pilot a targeting device that can be used to aim sensors and weapons wherever the pilot is looking. Using the information displayed in the pilot's visor, the pilot does not have to be flying towards the target, but just has to look in its direction before missile 'lock-on' is achieved. For targets of around 20 miles or more, pilots would select the supersonic Hughes AIM-120 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM), which is a Beyond Visual Range (BVR) weapon. The F-15C Eagle can also carry the AIM-7 Sparrow and is fitted with a General Electric M61-A1 20mm Vulcan cannon in the starboard wing-root. Powered by the Pratt & Whitney F100-PW-220, providing 23,770lbs of thrust with afterburner, the F-15C/D has a 70,000ft surface ceiling and a range of 2,600 nautical miles. It is also capable of achieving Mach 2.5 (1,900mph). Another major asset to both the F-15C/D and F-15E is the Rockwell-Collins Joint Tactical Information Data System (JTIDS), also known as 'Link 16'. JTIDS is a secure, jam-resistant, high-speed digital data link, and is one of the most valuable tools at the disposal of F-15 pilots. JTIDS is a data-link that provides the pilot with a situational report of what other pilots and surveillance aircraft like the E-3 AWACS are seeing, with F-15 pilots having reported a radical increase in situational awareness when using JTIDS.
#84-0027 carries two green stars beneath the canopy, signifying the shooting down of a Libyan Mirage F.1 and MiG.23
The two aircraft were shot down on 19th January 1991 when this particular F-15 was assigned to the 53rd TFS at Bitburg, Germany
One of the lesser known squadrons at RAF Lakenheath and probably one that gets little in the way of 'promotion' is the 48th Component Maintenance Squadron (48 CMS). The 'Green Dragons' of the 48th CMS perform equipment maintenance and accessory repair of F-15C/D, F-15E and HH-60G aircraft. The squadron also manages a Type IIA Precision Measurement Equipment Laboratory and three Centralized Repair Facilities to support U.S. Africa Command, CENTCOM, USEUCOM, NATO and USAFE tasking by performing equipment calibrations and intermediate level maintenance on the F-15 and C-130 avionics line-replaceable units; F-15E, F-16, and A-10 navigation, targeting and reconnaissance pods as well as the F100-PW-220 and -229 engines.
This 493rd Fighter Squadron Eagle is seen here in its element as it breaks away from the camera
#97-0220's crew carry out pre-flight checks prior to an early morning mission
The F-15 Multi-Stage Improvement Program (MSIP) was initiated in February 1983, with the first production MSIP F-15C being rolled out in 1985. Improvements included an upgraded central computer and a Programmable Armament Control Set, allowing for advanced versions of the AIM-7, AIM-9, and AIM-120A missiles; and an expanded Tactical Electronic Warfare System that provides improvements to the ALR-56C radar warning receiver and ALQ-135 countermeasures set. The final 43 upgraded aircraft also included a Hughes APG-70 radar as fitted to the F-15E. The F-15 is capable of Mach 2.5 in level flight and can climb at a maximum rate of 50,000 feet per minute, with a service ceiling of 65,000 feet. With conformal fuel tanks fitted its range is extended to 3,100 Nautical Miles, with an endurance in excess of 5 hours.
This F-15E is seen carrying an AN/ALQ-188(v)4 ECM pod on the fuselage centreline
The pod is used to simulate enemy threat electronic countermeasures (ECM) for aircrew training and weapons evaluation
We had the privilege to interview a Captain from the 493rd Fighter Squadron, who despite having only two years and 400 hours experience on the F-15, had already flown both Icelandic and Baltic Air Policing missions, and participated in Red Flag 15-1 at Nellis Air Force Base. He asked us not to print his name, but was happy to discuss his experiences with the Grim Reapers during his time with the squadron and also the types of missions that he flies day to day at RAF Lakenheath.
The F-15E's navigation system uses a laser-gyro and a Global Positioning System (GPS) to monitor its position and provide information to the central computer and other systems, including a digital moving map in both cockpits. The multi-mode APG-70 radar system (the APG-70 is a derivative of the APG-63 that adds air-to-ground modes and maintainability improvements) allows aircrews to detect ground targets from long ranges. One feature of this system is that after a sweep of a target area, the crew freezes the air-to-ground map then goes back into air-to-air mode to clear for air threats. During the air-to-surface weapons delivery, the pilot is capable of detecting, targeting and engaging air-to-air targets while the WSO designates the ground target.
U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles are all powered by the Pratt & Whitney F100 afterburning turbofan engine. Two variants of the engine are currently in use, the F100-PW-220 and the F100-PW-229, with all of the 48th FW Strike Eagles utilising the more powerful -229 variant. The F-15E also employs the JHMCS as per the F-15C/C and can carry a payload of 23,000lbs, with a maximum range of 2,400 miles and a surface ceiling of 60,000ft. The Strike Eagle has a maximum speed of Mach 2.5 and can carry a variety of air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons such as the AIM-7, AIM-9, AIM-120, GBU-10, GBU-12, GBU -15, GBU-24 and GBU-39, AGM-65, GBU-31 &-38 JDAM, AGM-154 JSOW and the AGM-158 JASSM.
Air superiority is the name of the game for the F-15C and it has ruled the skies for over 40 years, having achieved Initial Operational Capability (IOC) way back in 1975. Having previously operated from Lakenheath as a F-111F unit, the 493rd Fighter Squadron F-15C/Ds arrived at RAF Lakenheath in January 1994.
The Low Altitude Navigation and Targeting Infrared for Night (LANTIRN) system that was introduced on the F-15E Strike Eagle significantly increased the combat effectiveness of the aircraft when it was introduced to USAF service back in the mid to late 1980s. It allowed the Strike Eagle to fly at low altitudes, day or night, in all weather conditions and attack ground targets with a variety of precision-guided and unguided weapons. LANTIRN consisted of two pods, an AN/AAQ-13 navigation pod and an AN/AAQ-14 targeting pod, integrated and mounted externally beneath the aircraft.
Without the squadron's existence, the 48 Fighter Wing's aircraft would not be able to get into the air and we visited their Propellant Shop and engine Test Cell to get an insight into the day to day operations. The main Prop Shop is where essential maintenance and repair is carried out on all of the Wing's Pratt & Whitney F100 engines. It is the largest prop shop within the whole of the U.S. Air Force and most probably the world. It is most definitely an impressive facility, both in terms of its sheer size and its productivity. Manned by over 200 personnel, in excess of 100 engines are overhauled in its facility every year.
Squadrons (FS). The 495th ended its mission on 13th December 1991 when the wing began its transition to the new F-15E Strike Eagle. The 493rd FS inactivated on 1st January 1993, only to reactivate on 1st January 1994, the squadron receiving its first maintenance trainer F-15C Eagle on 10th January 1994 and its full complement of aircraft by 22nd July. This marked the first time that the 48th had an air-to-air weapon in its inventory, after flying for more than 50 years with an air-to-ground mission. Since then the Liberty Wing has continued to fly the Eagle and Strike Eagle side by side, with the three squadrons still currently in situ.
A 'Madhatters' Strike Eagle shoots a missed approach at Lakenheath
The large dorsal air-brake atop the fuselage is clearly visible in the image above
The brake is common to both the Eagle and Strike Eagle variants
In 1971, the Air Force announced plans to exchange the three fighter squadrons F-100Ds for the McDonnell F-4D Phantom II. On 1st October 1971, the 492nd Tactical Fighter Squadron (TFS) stood down from its NATO commitments, followed by the 493rd on 1st December and the 494th on 1st February 1972. The Liberty Wing’s first F-4D arrived for the 492nd TFS on 7th January, with the last F-100D departing in the April. By December 1973, the wing only possessed 26 F-4 aircraft due to external demands for the Phantom, which included Foreign Military Sales (FMS). It took until March 1975 for the 494th TFS to achieve initial operational capability with the new aircraft.
A 'Panthers' Strike Eagle crosses the runway threshold at Lakenheath
The awesome power of the F100-PW in full afterburner is evident in the photo above
Liberty Wing 'MiG-Killers'
Noticeable amongst the 493rd Fighter Squadron aircraft are seven F-15Cs with 'kills' accredited to them. Three of the unit's aircraft (#86-0156, #86-0159 and #86-0169) were assigned to the 493rd Fighter Squadron when claiming their 'kills', whilst the others (#84-0010, #84-0015, #84-0019 and #84-0027) served with Bitburg's 53rd Tactical Fighter Squadron at the time.