Peter Boschert at the 493rd Grim Reapers in Lakenheath

RAF Lakenheath, 493rd FS GRIM REAPERS, the last fighters of United States Air Force Europe      

F-111F_70-2412_493TFS_LN_02-1990_1024_Fi

The 493rd Fighter Squadron “Grim Reapers“ of the 48th Fighter Wing, the “Liberty Wing“ looks back to a long and proud history. The squadron was established in 1941 and spent most of its time in the United Kingdom. In the last decades the squadron used the F-100C, F-4C and until 1992, the F-111F. It was involved in the Operation “El Dorado Canyon“, the airstrike against Tripolis, Lybia during the night from 14th to 15th April 1986. The squadron flew combat missions in South-West Asia and participated from January to February 1991 in “Desert Storm“. After the end of the Cold War, the F-111Fs were sent back to the United States and the squadron was disbanded. After the closure of Zweibrücken, Bitburg, Hahn, Sembach, Upper Heyford, Alconbury and Bentwaters , only Aviano, Spangdahlem and Lakenheath were left with fighters.

In February 1994 the 493rd FS got the first F-15C/D. All were from the latest production block and came from the 33rd Fighter Wing at Eglin AFB, Fla.. When the 53rd FS with the 52nd FW at Spangdahlem was disbanded, some of their FY84 aircraft were assigned to the 493rd FS to bolster up the squadron, as it was the last real Fighter Squadron in USAFE. Today, the squadron has 19 F-15C and 2 F-15D and of these, three are usually in deep maintenance at Robins AFB, Georgia, at the Air Logistic Center (ALC) or at RAF Lakenheath. The readiness rate of the old F-15 Eagle is remarkably high, during my visit 17 F-15s were ready to fly. The Grim Reapers belong to the 48th Fighter Wing and is one of the wings four squadrons. However, it is the only squadron using the F-15C/D, two squadrons (492nd “Madhatters” and 494th “Panthers”) are flying the F-15E Strike Eagle, the fourth flying squadron is the 56th Rescue Squadron (RQS), flying the HH-60G Pave Hawk.

Despite a lot of rumors the future of the squadron remains certain, the 493rd FS got allocated 4,300 flying hours for the FY2015. 31 pilots are flying daily their missions and it isn’t just “Flying around in the countryside“. If you look closer, it is a challenging and demanding job which only can be seen if you look behind the scene and have a look at the daily job. the pilots usually fly 3-4 times in a week and have around 200 flying hours a year, additionally the exercises and detachments the 493rd FS has to man. The Wing participated in Operation “Odyssey Dawn” in March 2011 and flew in South-West Asia within a Air Expeditionary Force (AEF) as part of the ongoing war against terrorism. In the last months, the 493rd became really busy with detachments to Iceland (Air Policing) in November 2013, to Lithuania (from March to June 2014) and a detachment with 12 F-15s to Graf Ignatievo Air Base in Bulgaria. In January/February 2015, the Grim Reapers are scheduled to participate again with 12 Eagles.

The F-15 Eagle had its first flight in 1972 and it is still one of the best fighters in the world, proven by its kill-ratio in the last 30 years. 408 F-15C and 92 F-15D dual seated trainers were built for the USAF of which ca. 220 are still active with various squadrons. The active Air Force uses F-15C/D at Nellis AFB, Nevada. with the 433rd Weapons Squadron and a few within the 64th Aggressor Squadron after the disbanding of the 65th AGRS at the end of September 2014. Two squadrons (44th FS and 67th FS) are flying with the 18th Wing at Kadena AB in Japan and the sole squadron in Europe, 493rd FS with the 48th FW at RAF Lakenheath, UK. In addition to that, six Air National Guard units have the F-15C/D Eagle in use, namely Florida (159th FS / 125th FW at Jacksonville, Fla.), Massachusetts (101st FS / 102nd FW at Otis ANGB, Ma.), Louisiana (122nd FS / 159th FW at NAS New Orleans, La.) California (194th FS / 144th FW at Fresno AP, Calif.) and Oregon (123rd FS / 142nd FW at Portland IAP, Ore. and the 114th FS / 173rd FW at Klamath Falls IAP, Ore., which is the training unit for the ANG pilots). The newest F-15 squadron is the 194th FS in California while there are rumours that the 123rd FS in Oregon should be deactivated in the near future. However, times and conditions are changing and only the future will tell.

The F-15C/D was modernized over the years to keep up with the increasing developments. Nowadays it can use the latest air-to-air missiles like the AIM-9X but also air-to-ground missiles like the AGM-84 Harpoon and the AGM-88 HARM. The F-15 was upgraded with GPS receivers, Night Vision Goggles (NVG) and the MIDS-LVT communication system. Since 2007 176 F-15s were upgraded with the use of the JHMCS helmet, which, in combination with the AIM-9X, improves the spectrum of the Eagle in air-to-air combat significantly. The USAF plans with about 120 F-15 Eagles (so called Golden Eagle) with the USAF/ANG, which will get further modernizations, the most significant the Hughes APG-63(V)3 radar system, which includes AESA-technology.


Finally, I like to thank the people of the USAFE HQ at Ramstein, the PAO at RAF Lakenheath and Matthiew Tanis for their time, help and effort. I wish the squadron all the best for their future.


F-15C with the 493rd FS (09/2014):

84-0001, 84-0010(ALC), 84-0015, 84-0019, 84-0027, 86-0154, 86-0156, 86-0159, 86-0160, 86-0163, 86-0164, 86-0165, 86-0166, 86-0171, 86-0172, 86-0174, 86-0175, 86-0176, 86-0178.

F-15D with the 493rd FS (09/2014):

84-0044,

F-15C, which left the 493rd FS:

83-0018 (with 131st FS today), 84-0004 (194thFS), 84-0008 (44thFS), 84-0009 (194thFS), 84-0014(194thFS), 86-0147(194thFS)

F-15C which crashed while with 493rd FS:

86-0169 (26.03.2001), 86-0173 (03.08.2000), 86-0180 (26.03.2001)

F-15D which crashed while with 493rd FS:
86-0182 (08.10.2014)

 

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Peter Boschert

Peter is a photographer covering events in the United States and in Europe. He likes to cover Nellis AFB, NAS Fallon and RAF Lakenheath.

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