Flying F-15E Mission Training in the U.K.
“Ratch 2, you’re cleared for take-off”. The dark grey Strike Eagle thunders down the runway only seconds after we got the take-off clearance from the tower in RAF Lakenheath. The acceleration is amazing after my pilot Chris “Skull” Bridges ignited the afterburner and released the brakes. Despite the nearly 10 tons of fuel on board and an empty weight of 14,3 tons, only a few hundred meter of rolling distance are enough to put the aircraft to the sky.
But this should be a special take-off, so Chris puts the nose down and retract the landing gear. To get more speed, we’re racing down to the end of the runway at 15 mm above ground. At 500 knots, Chris pulls the stick hardly. I have a look to the g-meter, which shows immediately 5 g and it takes my breath away for a short moment. Like a rocket, the Eagle spirals upwards to 23.000 feet. There Chris turns the jet on the back and finishes the climb. I understand now what “Max Performance Take-off” means.
It is 14:53 and “Ratch 2” is on the way to its mission. Nearly three hours before we start our briefing in the squadron building of the 492nd Fighter Squadron. The “Madhatters” of the 492nd FS belong like its sister squadrons, the “Panthers” of the 494th FS and the “Grim Reapers” of 493rd FS to the famous 48th Fighter Wing, the “Liberty Wing”. While the 493rd, equipped with the F-15C and D, is intended exclusively for Air Defense, the role of the F-15E Strike Eagle is more that of a fighter bomber with attacking ground targets. For that the Strike Eagle can carry up to 11 tons of different air-to-ground weapons like the AGM-65 Maverick and laser-guided bombs like the GBU-10, GBU-15 and GBU-28.
We were on our way at 15.000ft to our target. It is a bridge in the west of England, which we wanted to attack with a simulated bomb. After roughly 30 min flight time we started our run to the target. Chris pushed the nose down and we raced towards the earth in a 45 degree angle. We reached 550 knots and at a height of 1000 ft we raced towards the target. Under the fuselage of the jet is the “Lantirn-System” (Low Altitude Navigation and Targeting Infrared for Night) with, in conjunction with a Infrared Targeting Unit that helps the Weapon System Officer (WSO) to aim his targets, which I aimed the bridge. Within fractions of a second we were behind the bridge, Chris pulled up the aircraft steeply and again deflected the g-Meter. We were heading south, having climbed again to 15.000 feet.
Meanwhile “Matt” had taken off in the spare 96-0204 and flew towards us. Chris told me over the radio that he will be shortly on our right side.Moments later I saw the aircraft breaking through the clouds and joining us. Immediately I started taking pictures with Chris maneuvering our plane in the best Photo positions. A lot of pictures later it was time to fly back to Lakenheath. In the approach, the large speed brake behind me extended and we were loosing speed, flaps went down, gear went down.The runway came in sight and the Eagle was aiming towards the touchdown point.
Shortly before the wheels were touching the runway, Chris pushed the thrust lever forward and I was pressed into the seat. It is amazing how fast the F-15E reacts from inputs of the thrust lever and accelerates without delay. One more time the large airbase was behind us.
After a last turn, Chris landed our aircraft on the runway of RAF Lakenheath after 1 hour and 57 minutes flight time.