493rd Fighter Squadron at Red Flag 15-1

 

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The 493rd Fighter Squadron, known as the “Grim Reapers” and based at RAF Lakenheath in England, deployed 12 F-15’s (11 C’s and 1 D) to Nellis AFB to participate in Red Flag 15-1. The exercise runs from January 26 to February 13, 2015 and the 493rd FS was the only F-15C Eagle unit participating. For more information about Red Flag 15-1, please click this link.

The deployment to RF 15-1 comes on the heels of the squadron winning the 2014 Raytheon Trophy for best fighter squadron in the US Air Force. For an article on the amazing accomplishments of the 493rd FS, please click this link: 2014 Raytheon Trophy winners.

Not having seen 493rd FS F-15’s in person previously, and with the squadron just winning the Raytheon Trophy, it was a real honor and treat to be able to see and photograph them up close at RF 15-1 on January 29, 2015. Additionally, the squadron was scheduled to leave Lakenheath in 2014, but their existence and operations have now been extended, at least through fiscal 2015.

My guide and escort, TSgt Burks from the 48th Fighter Wing Public Affairs Office, graciously took me out to the ramp to see the jets and crew get ready to do battle.

When we first arrived, the jets were all buttoned-up except for their canopies being open, awaiting the additional attention and care of the youthful maintainers. Soon, they arrived and focused on the 8 jets that would be participating in this particular mission. Each one started removing the red safety covers that protected various vents, probes and antennae on the jet. Watching this well-choreographed display was like watching an orchestra warm up. Each airman knew the tasks and routine at hand from opening and checking panels to polishing the canopy and windscreen. Even buckets of water and scrubbing pads were used to remove excess dirt and grime. Not only do the jets have to operate well, they need to look well. Simulated weapons were also checked for secure attachment by the weapons’ specialists.

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Next, a ramp FOD walk was performed, where a ramp-wide line of airmen walked in unison to look for and pick up any debris. Aircraft engines, as tough as they are, can be easily damaged by errant objects on the ramp.

Soon after being briefed and receiving intelligence, the pilots arrived to inspect their assigned jet, and prepare to go hunting. The pilots greeted the maintainers and did a walk-around of their jet before climbing into the cockpit. Maintainers assisted each pilot to get strapped in, and the pilots started flipping and adjusting the myriad of buttons and switches. Once the pilots were ready to start engines, they gave a thumbs-up. Suddenly, that distinctive sound of the jet fuel starter (JSF) started to whine, and each engine was brought to life, starting with the right one and then the left one. Once an engine was running, the intake dropped quickly. Canopies then were closed on each jet. As this was happening, the overall activity on the Nellis flight line and runways really came to life.

The pilots kept in close contact with the assigned maintainer via a wire connected to the jet, as others watched and supervised the operations. The maintainers carefully and methodically worked around the jet ensuring it was safe and operable for the upcoming mission.

Once the checks were complete and parking chocks were removed, the jets were ready to taxi to the runway. One by one, the first 4 jets taxied out, led by F-15C 84-0027, the flagship of the 493rd FS and carrying the commander’s name. It also was proudly wearing 2 green stars, depicting its 2 aerial kills from Desert Storm in 1991 while serving with the 53rd Tactical Fighter Squadron / 36th Tactical Fighter Wing. After a few more minutes, the next 4 taxied out.

The jets taxied over to a last chance area, where maintenance crews quickly checked them for any loose panels and to remove the last safety pins. Then the jets proceeded to the end of the runway for take-off.

Once cleared for take-off, each pilot lit the Eagle’s afterburners, roared down the runway and rapidly took the skies to tangle with opposing forces and protect their assets. The mission would include an aerial refueling due to the length of the mission, and large amount of fuel consumed by the F-15. About 2.5 hours later, the jets returned to Nellis. The cycle of maintenance, and post-mission briefings continued, and to be played out again the following day.

An interesting note about my visit to the ramp with TSgt Burks – no less than 4 individuals/groups approached us to question if we had the authorization to be taking photos. Even with the paperwork filed and appropriate phone calls made prior, everyone was vigilant in terms of security. Not only is the flying mission serious business, but security on-base is as well.

In addition to the photos I took, here’s a video I made of them preparing to launch.

I’d like to extend a very special thanks to TSgt Burks, the 48th Fighter Wing Public Affairs Office, the 493rd Fighter Squadron / 48th Fighter Wing, and the Nellis Public Affairs Office.

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