20th Anniversary of F-15Es at RAF Lakenheath Report

Friday 10th February 2012

February 2012 marks the 20th anniversary of the arrival of the first F-15E Strike Eagles at RAF Lakenheath. 10th February also marked the last Strike Eagle flight for the departing Commanding Officer of the 492nd Fighter Squadron, Lt. Col. Clinton Mixon.

Michael Hall braved the elements to bring this report. All photos by the author.

Cold, clear skies were a very welcome feature on arrival at RAF Lakenheath but the temperature was not! Freezing conditions made for a picturesque wintery scene but conditions underfoot were treacherous. Luckily further overnight snow experienced in the rest of the country managed to avoid this corner of England.

We were met in Hangar 8 by the new Commander of the 492nd Fighter squadron Lt.Col. John Orchard and one of the longest serving staff at Lakenheath, Master Sgt. Robert Griffith, the 48th Operations Support Squadron unit deployment manager.

Coinciding with the 20 year celebration was to be Lt. Col. Clint Mixon's last Strike Eagle flight. Lt. Col. Mixon's mount took off in the manner usually reserved for demonstrating the Strike Eagle's performance at airshows, climbing almost vertically into the "wild blue". His return after landing some 30 minutes later was met by a water spraying Fire truck, although sensibly not directly over the aircraft due to the conditions. Staff and family were there to greet him on the apron with his closest "friends" dowsing him with a mixture of fire extinguisher content and Champagne, just what was wanted on one of the coldest days of the year!

RAF Lakenheath's Strike Eagles are a familiar sight and sound over the skies of East Anglia and could be for many years to come. Since the arrival of the F-15E at Lakenheath after the end of the Cold War, the US has been engaged in several conflicts in Europe and the Middle East and Lakenheath's Eagles have seen action in the skies over Iraq, the Balkans, Kosovo, Afghanistan and more recently Libya.

The 48th Fighter Wing is currently home to some 4500 active duty military personnel who are supported by around 2000 British and US civilians which makes Lakenheath the largest U.S. Air Force operated base in Europe as well as the largest F-15 composite unit in the U.S. Air Force. Currently based at Lakenheath apart from the Strike Eagles of the 492nd and 494th Fighter Squadrons are the F-15Cs and Ds of the 493rd Fighter Squadron. The latter can be identified by the lighter grey paint scheme used and the single seat canopies of the F-15C. Also based are the 56th Rescue Squadron's HH-60G Combat Search and Rescue helicopters.

Time appears to have flown by since the departing F-111Fs were replaced by F-15E Strike Eagles in 1992. To look at the well maintained aircraft currently based at Lakenheath the casual observer would be hard pressed to judge individual aircraft's age. In fact the oldest airframe currently on strength is 91-0301 and the newest is 01-2003 and although 01-2004 is the newest assigned aircraft, it's not currently on station.

The 48th Liberty Wing F-15Es have supported numerous U.S. and NATO missions, including:

  • Operation Provide Comfort (Iraq: 1993)
  • Operation Deny Flight/ Decisive Endeavour/ Deliberate Guard (Balkans: 1993-1995)
  • Operation Northern Watch (Iraq: 1997)
  • Operation Allied Force (Kosovo: 1999)
  • Operation Southern Watch (Iraq 2000)
  • Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan: 2001- present)
  • Operation Iraqi Freedom (Iraq: 2003 -2011)
  • Operation Odyssey Dawn/Unified Protector (Libya: 2011)