Last Eagles in Europe

06/06/2022

'The Eagles Have Flown The Nest'

On Wednesday the 27th of April 2022 the final 4 airworthy F-15 Eagles in Europe departed for home following 45 years of operations.

During their time in Europe, the Eagles called many a country home including Iceland, Germany, the Netherlands and the UK: 

1977 saw Bitburg Air Base in Germany take delivery of 79 F-15A Eagles. The base did later re-equip with the F-15C Eagle. Bitburg hosted the 36th Fighter Wing, who commanded the 22nd and 53rd Fighter Squadrons until the bases closure in 1994. When the base closed, the 22nd Fighter Squadron re-equipped with the F-16C/D Fighting Falcon, whereas the 53rd Fighter Squadron moved to Spangdahlem. 

Spangdahlem Air Base in Germany hosted the 53rd Fighter Squadron from 1994 until 1999. During this time, the 53rd FS was flying the newer F-15C/D Eagles. 1999 came and the decision had been made to transfer the Eagles out of Spangdahlem and across to the United Kingdom, RAF Lakenheath to be exact. 6 of Spangdahlem's jets moved to Lakenheath, with the rest heading back to the USA.

In 1979, the 32nd Fighter Squadron based at Soesterburg Air Base in The Netherlands received their first 2 F-15s, a pair of A models. In 1983 the squadron, nicknamed the 'Wolfhounds', started receiving the newer C/D models, of which they had a total of 24. The Wolfhounds transitioned back to the F-15As following the Gulf War, although these As had been a part of the Multi Stage Improvement Program. Some jets returned that they had operated when they were new back in 1979. Come 1993 and the decision was made to close Soesterburg. Across 1993 and into early 94 the 32nd lost of all their aircraft to Otis AFB, Massachusetts. 

The 57th Fighter Interceptor Squadron called Naval Air Station Keflavik in Iceland home from 1985 until 1993. The squadron was equipped with the F-15C/D Eagles. The squadron was known as 'The Black Knights of Keflavik'. Air Forced Iceland was given the tailcode IS. With Iceland not having an air force, or indeed military, of their own, having fighters based in the country did make sense, especially with the threat Russia posed/pose to Europe. Even today, Air Forces periodically deploy aircraft to Keflavik to partake in NATO air policing missions keeping the skies of Iceland secure. 

The final chapter of European Eagles took place at RAF Lakenheath in England. Lakenheath based Eagles flew with the 493rd Fighter Squadron, known as the Grim Reapers, from 1993 until 2022. The 493rd was awarded the Raytheon Trophy a total of 6 times, including 1997, 2007, 2014, 2016, 2019 and 2020. In total, the squadron flew 31 F-15C/D aircraft, losing 5 in crashes and another 7 being transferred back stateside long before the Grim Reapers wrapped up European operations.  

With credit to Berniesabre on Fighter Control, here is where each former reaper now calls home:

F-15C 84-0010 131st FS Massachusetts ANG
F-15C 84-0015 123rd FS Oregon ANG 
F-15C 84-0019 123rd FS Oregon ANG
F-15C 84-0027 114th FS Oregon ANG 
F-15D 84-0044 114th FS Oregon ANG
F-15D 84-0046 114th FS Oregon ANG
F-15C 86-0154 131st FS Massachusetts ANG
F-15C 86-0156 114th FS Oregon ANG
F-15C 86-0159 114th FS Oregon ANG
F-15C 86-0160 131st FS Massachusetts ANG 
F-15C 86-0163 131st FS Massachusetts ANG 
F-15C 86-0164 114th FS Oregon ANG
F-15C 86-0165 159th FS Florida ANG
F-15C 86-0166 122nd FS Louisiana ANG
F-15C 86-0171 159th FS Florida ANG
F-15C 86-0172 159th FS Florida ANG 
F-15C 86-0174 122nd FS Louisiana ANG
F-15C 86-0175 159th FS Florida ANG
F-15C 86-0178 159th FS Florida ANG

The final aircraft, 84-0001, will not be leaving Lakenheath and will remain on base as an instructional frame.

Multiple Eagles were accredited with kill stars during their time in Europe:

84-0010 (53rd TFS, Su-22, 22/3/91)
84-0015 (53rd TFS, PC-9, 22/3/91) - Target flew into ground while being engaged.
84-0019 (53rd TFS, 2xSu25, 6/2/91)
84-0027 (53rd TFS, 1xMig-23 & 1xMirage F1); 
86-0156 (2xMig29)
86-0159 (1xMig29)

The Eagles boast an impressive kill record, having shot down 104 enemy aircraft. What makes this even more impressive is the fact that no Eagle has ever been shot down, proving that it truly is the World's Greatest Air Superiority Fighter. 

Although this photo doesn't show the kill stars, this aircraft did indeed shoot down an enemy aircraft, in this case it was a MiG 29 during Operation Allied Force in 1999.
Although this photo doesn't show the kill stars, this aircraft did indeed shoot down an enemy aircraft, in this case it was a MiG 29 during Operation Allied Force in 1999.

Even as the 493rd wound down operations in Europe, they were still called upon when needed. The squadron was ordered to rapidly deploy to Lask Air Base in Poland as part of NATO enhanced Air Policing missions. Just over 2 weeks later, and with the squadron slowly losing their aircraft, the 493rd returned to Lakenheath and were relieved by Seymour Johnson Air Force Bases 336th Fighter Squadron 'Rocketeers' with their F-15E Strike Eagles.

Deploying the 493rd as they were disbanding truly shows how important not only the squadron are, but the jets they fly as well. 

On April 13th I was lucky enough to be at Lakenheath to see 5 reapers depart home. That day, 6 were scheduled to fly to the states, including 86-0160 and 86-0171. 0160 encountered difficulties on the ground and never made it out to the last chance. 0171 did make it out however, and waited at last chance with the rest of the aircraft. They eventually taxied out to the runway one by one, lighting the burners as they left Europe for the last time. 0171 was the last aircraft to taxi out, and must've encountered difficulties as it headed straight back to the 493rd shelters. The pilot of 0160 was instructed to jump into a spare jet in an attempt to get as many out as possible that day, and half an hour later, out came 0175 still wearing 'Machete' nose art from the recent deployment. All 5 jets departed together, albeit slightly behind schedule! The 7 C's seen around Lakenheath on April 13th were: 

84-0027 - Departed home
86-0156 - Departed home
86-0159 - Departed home
86-0160 - Ground Abort
86-0164 - Departed home
86-0171 - Ground Abort
86-0175 - Departed home

I'll certainly miss arriving at Lakenheath early in the morning and listen as the Eagles start up. I'll also miss watching them in the air, they were a joy to see.

With all Eagles having now flown the nest, the 493rd will be temporarily disbanded before coming back with the Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II, which I plan to cover in the future!

Mors Inimicus! 

Various photos from both RAF Lakenheath and the American hangar at IWM Duxford