Lakenheath´s Strike Eagles

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The 48th FW is home-based at the largest US Air Force Base in the United Kingdom. 4,600 active soldiers and 900 civilians from the UK are working and caring for 50 F-15E Strike Eagles and the 21 F-15C/Ds of the 493rd Grim Reapers. The name “Statue of Liberty Wing” was given the 48th FW in the year 1954 and is still the only USAF unit with a name and a numerical appellation. Activated on 25th June 1952 as the 48th Fighter Bomber Wing, it was renamed a Tactical Fighter Wing on 05th July 1958. On 01st October 1991 it became the current Fighter Wing. F-84C (1952-1954), F-86F (1953-1956), F-100D (1956-1972), F-4D (1972-1977), F-111F (1977-1992) and F-15s (1992-today) were based at RAF Lakenheath. Until 1992 the 48th FW had four flying squadrons (492nd FS “Madhatters”, 493rd FS “Grim Reapers”, 494th FS “Panthers” and 495th FS “Mala Ipsa Nova”). After the F-111Fs were send back to the United States and based Cannon AFB, NM with the 27th FW, the number of squadrons were reduced and only the 492nd FS and 494th FS were equipped with the F-15E Strike Eagle. In 1999 the 493rd FS was reactivated with the interceptor F-15C/D. The members of the 48th FW participated in nearly all the recent conflicts:

– April 1986 Operation El Dorado Canyon, 24 F-111 hit targets at Bengasi and Tripolis, Libya

– August 1990 – March 1991 Desert Shield/Desert Storm, 66 F-111F flew 1919 combat sorties, totaling 2203 target hits

– Operation Enduring Freedom, New Dawn, Iraqi Freedom, Operation Odyssey Dawn (2011 Libya)


The first F-15E with the markings of the 48th FW landed at RAF Lakenheath on 15th February 1992, further aircraft of the blocks 50-MC to 53-MC followed. Presently the wings flies with a mix of F-15E of the blocks 51-MC to 53-MC, 58-MC and 61-MC to 63-MC. In 2003, the 48th FW got 27 brand new F-15Es which differed from the others mainly in the engine, the Pratt & Witney F100-PW-229 was the newest engine which replaced the F100-PW-220. All Eagles of Lakenheath have this engine today; the only other F-15E squadron which uses this engine are the 391st “Bold Tigers” at Mountain Home AFB in Idaho

In nearly 23 years of operation, the 48th FW has lost two F-15Es. The first (97-0203 of 492nd FS) came back from a Red Flag exercise on 12th September 2000. The F-15E did not just blow a tire, the left main gear failed to rotate out parallel to the runway. So, the aircraft began to bounce and the cart wheeled up onto its nose. On 22 March 2011 F-15E 91-0304 from RAF Lakenheath crashed near Benghazi, Libya in Operation Odyssey Dawn. Both crewmen ejected safely and were recovered by friendly forces. Equipment problems with weapons interface software and the right external fuel tank led to a strong right-wing weight imbalance, which caused the aircraft to enter a flat spin during a low-speed, high altitude, 100 degree bank-angle right turn. The mishap investigation board found the cause of the crash to be lack of published knowledge on F-15E maneuvering with large external store weight imbalances at high altitude.


492nd FS “Madhatters“ F-15E

The history of this squadron dates back to the year 1941, but the squadron was activated on 15th January 1960 at RAF Lakenheath, flying the F-100 Super Sabre. In 1972, the next generation arrived with the F-4D Phantom II; the conversion lasted through August 1974, when the last F-100 left 492nd FS. In 1977, the F-111F Aardvark arrived and this aircraft was flown until the arrival of the F-15E in 1992. The role of the squadron changed, This continued to add to the previous 50 years of flying the air-to-ground mission with one of the most capable multi-role/air-to-ground jets in the current Air Force inventory. Presently, the squadron flies the latest version of the F-15E and participated in nearly every conflict over the last 30 years.  Lately the 492nd FS participated with 12 aircraft in a three-month training at Al Dhafra.

-Operation El Dorado Canyon

-Operation Desert Storm

-Operation Allied Force

-Operation Enduring Freedom

-Operation Provide Comfort

-Operation Northern Watch


494th FS “Panthers“ F-15E

The history is nearly parallel to the 492nd FS, it dates back to 1941 and was activated on 15th January 1960, flying the F-100 Super Sabre, followed in 1971 by the more modern F-4D Phantom II, which was used until 1977. The squadron converted without problems to the F-111F Aardvark. With the change to the F-15E in 1992, the role of the squadron changed, from the ground attack role to a dual role mission: air interdiction and air superiority. The squadron participated in various missions and was recently at Red Flag at Nellis AFB, NV and then at Hill AFB, Utah for further training.

-Operation El Dorado Canyon

-Operation Desert Storm

-Operation Allied Force

-Operation Iraqi Freedom


The future for the two squadrons in Europe looks bright. Due to the crises in the Near and Far East and Asia, a return of the to CONUS or a disbandment for the two squadrons is not in the books.

I’d like to thank the HQ of USAFE at Ramstein AB, the PAO of the 48th FW and the people who accompanied me for hours at RAF Lakenheath. Without all these people, this report wouldn’t be possible.

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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