On the 10th of March this year I was fortunate enough to get the opportunity to go on a base tour at RAF Lakenheath. The squadron that hosted us for the first part of the day was the 493rd Grim Reapers, the only pure fighter squadron of the 48th Fighter Wing. They fly the F-15C and F-15D in the air superiority role.
From the moment you step into their crew building you get the feeling you are walking into a fraternity of excellence. The first object you are greeted with upon entering the building is the remains of a Mig 29 Cockpit that a Reapers jet downed in Allied Force. The building is full of the history of their squadron and has lots of souvenirs of the various deployments and conflicts they have been involved in. They are proud of their history, and rightly so. The next thing your eye is drawn to when you walk the stairs to the 493rd FS floor is a board, with all the kills the squadrons aircraft have scored. Written upon it is: "WELCOME TO EAGLE COUNTRY, Air Superiority Starts Here.". Everywhere you walk there is activity, people working to get this squadron to fly all the sorties it has planned, to keep the jets running and to keep the pilots informed and prepared. To the outsider this is immensely impressive, but to them it is just business as usual.
We're given a brief tour by the most junior pilot of the squadron, he shows us around and describes each of the numerous rooms in the building. We are then taken into the squadron bar. This room has beverages from every corner of the globe and enough souvenirs to keep the visitor intrigued for hours, it is an impressive place. There are hints everywhere of various "tools" used to name new pilots, and the names of those who have gone elsewhere. There is a chalk board with fighter maneuvers scrawled on it, and two very weathered looking briefing sticks. The bar top is from Bitburg in Germany, the Reapers inherited a lot of the Bitburg F-15C's when the unit there deactivated and so they have a close connection with them.
After touring the Reapers crew building we were then taken to one of the numerous Hardened Aircraft Shelters (HAS). The principle of the HAS is to offer your aircraft adequate protection in the case of an airfield attack. The HAS at Lakenheath are ventilated and sealed and a jet can be started inside the shelter in the event of a NBC (Nuclear, Biological or Chemical attack). Inside the HAS we were shown F-15C 84-0010. This airframe had downed an Iraqi SU-22 in the First Gulf War, and displays a small green star on the nose to signify this kill. We were given freedom to look around the HAS and photograph the Eagles that were taxiing back. One of the Reapers pilots also toured us around the cockpit of the jet while we stood on the ladder. It was fascinating to see their true "office" up close. The aircraft is still incredibly capable for its age, under going almost constant updates to keep it relevant and potent well into the 21st century. It is a testament to the design of the F-15, an aircraft that entered service under the Nixon administration, to still be a fantastic air superiority platform. The introduction of the AESA (Active Electronically Scanned Array Radar) front end for the AN/APG-63 and its planned retrofitting for the F-15C means that the aircraft's potency will increase as it gets older.
After a wonderful morning being shown around the Reapers lair we were taken to the tower, which offered a wonderful insight into the workings of the ATC and some great photo opportunities. We also were toured around Airfield Management, The Weather Section and RAPCON. The tour offered a fantastic chance to see the 48th fighter wing up close, and a personal look at the 493rd. A massive thank you to the 48th Public Affairs team for supervising these tours and to Ross Henty and the 48th and 100 ARW Facebook page for organizing it.