F-15 Eagles in Europe

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The F-15 Eagle, probably the best air superiority fighter ever built, made its first flight in 1972. One thousand eight hundred seventeen Eagles were built for the United States Air Force:

F-15A 384

F-15B 61

F-15C 483

F-15D 92

F-15E 237

There are 235 Eagles remaining in the active USAF inventory; there is a modernization program that will modernize these jet through 2028. It includes structural improvements, new wings with more stations, new cockpits, and all Eagles will get Conformal Fuel Tanks (CFTs). With these measurements the Eagles should be kept in service until 2045.

The winning contractor shall design/test/produce three production prototype wing sets (FY 2020) for 2 x F-15Cs and 1 x F-15D.

-FY 2022 10 wing sets (Low Rate Initial Production – LRIP)

-FY 2023 28 wing sets (Full Rate Production)

-FY 2024 40 wing sets

-FY 2025 40 wing sets

-FY 2026 40 wing sets

-FY 2027 40 wing sets

-FY 2028 42 wing sets

The F-15 flew and still flies in the following wings in Europe

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36th TFW/FW Bitburg AB/Germany

22nd TFS/FS F-15A/B July 1977-May 1981, F-15C/D May 1981-February 1994

53rd TFS/FS F-15A/B November 1977-May 1981, F-15C/D May 1981-February 1994

525th TFS/FS April 1977-January 1981, F-15C/D December 1980-March 1992

The 36th Tactical Fighter Wing at Bitburg AB received the first Eagles in Europe; with 80 Eagles once assigned to it, it was one of the largest F-15 bases worldwide. The 36th TFW supplied the largest part of its Eagles for Desert Calm/Storm contributing 17 kills, the “Eifel” Eagles were the most successful Wing. They returned to Bitburg in March 1991. Shortly after its return, one of the Wings’ squadrons, the 525th FS, was deactivated and some of the squadron’s aircraft were sold to Saudi Arabia. In the beginning of the 1990s, there were thoughts about building a second runway at Bitgurg and improving the fuel system, and probably base the F-15E Strike Eagle there too. This caused concerns and protests with the nearby population, and so instead the decision was easily made to close the base and position the F-15Es in the United Kingdom, at RAF Lakenheath. The closure and disbandment was the fastest in the history of the USAF. The 22nd FS was disbanded while the 53rd FS with its Eagles was assigned to the 52nd FW at nearby Spangdahlem Air Base.

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48th FW/493rd FS RAF Lakenheath/UK

493rd FS F-15C/D February 1994-present

This is one of the last bases of the USAF with an active F-15C/D unit, the other one is Kadena AB on Okinawa Island in Japan. All other active F-15C/D belong to the Air National Guard or the Weapons School at Nellis AB, or to the test units at Nellis AFB and Eglin AFB.

The 493rd FS is one of the best Squadrons of the USAF; the unit wins regularly the Air Force Association’s Hughes- and Raytheon Trophy. The squadron was been identified a few times for disbandment, but currently its future appears safe. After Operation Odyssey Dawn in Libya, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and Operation Enduring Freedom, the Eagles have been seen in Lithuania in the Baltic, in Poland, or as participants at Anatolian Eagle or other exercises all over Europe. They frequent Red Flag at Nellis AFB too. The squadron’s F-15C/D Eagles are among the last ones built and are kept up-to-date. After the announcement of the F-15C/D Wing Replacement Program, it is hoped that the Eagle will keep soaring in Europe.

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52nd FW/53rd FS Spangdahlem AB/Germany

53rd FS F-15C/D February 1994-March 1999

After the closure of Bitburg AB it was announced that one squadron of F-15C/D Eagles would still be based in Germany, so in 1994 the 53rd FS was moved with 18 aircraft, to Spangdahlem AB. The squadron participated in operations over Bosnia and Northern Iraq. But there were further cutbacks and reorganizations and in 1999 the squadron was disbanded at Spangdahlem AB.

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32nd TFS/FS Soesterberg AB/Netherlands

32nd TFS F-15A/B September 1978-May 1980

32nd TFS F-15C/D June 1980-October 1991

32nd FS F-15A/B MSIP October 1991-January 1994

The Eagles from Soesterberg had a unique role in the USAF as this was the only squadron which was under the control of a foreign country, as the unit was controlled by the Netherlands Air Force. However, the squadron still participated in Operation Desert Storm. On 28th January 1991, F-15C 79-0021 of 32nd TFS shot down a MiG-23 with an AIM-7M. From 1991-1993 the unit participated in Operation Provide Comfort. In an unusual move, in 1991 the squadron traded older F-15A/Bs for its newer F-15C/Ds, as their newer jets went partly after the Gulf War to Saudi-Arabia. Their supplied F-15A/B airframes were updated MSIP (Multi-Stage Improvement Program) aircraft, and at the time (because of their new avionics ) were the most modernized F-15 Eagles in use.

On 4th of July 1989 an F-15C on QRA duty scrambled from Soesterberg AB to intercept a soviet MiG-23, flying into Belgium. The pilots found out, that the MiG-23 was not only without weapons, it was also without pilot. He ejected after engine problems over Poland, but after the ejection the engine decided to work again and flew, without a pilot ,until it ran out of fuel and crashed in Belgium into a house (see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1989_Belgian_MiG-23_crash).

57th FIS/FS/35th W Naval Air Station Keflavik/Island

57th FIS F-15C/D July 1985-March 1995

In July 1985 the first F-15C was flown from Langley AFB to Keflavik to begin replacing the unit’s F-4E Phantom IIs. The units Eagles differed from other squadrons as they were using conformal fuel tanks (CFTs). They were necessary to be able to cover the large areas between Iceland and Greenland and the northern Atlantic up to Scotland. However the squadron and its parent wing were disbanded in 1995 and the Eagles dispersed over other units. The base is still used for deployments.

Deployments

In September 1978, the first deployment exercise of F-15 Eagles to Europe, from the U.S. mainland, began. Over the years, the number of participating aircraft got smaller, but there are still regular Air National Guard units coming to Europe to participate on various exercises. Long may it continue.

 

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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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