In January 1960 flying the F-100D the 493rd Fighter Squadron moved from France to RAF Lakenheath and joined the 48th Tactical Fighter Wing. During the 1960’s and 1972 the 493rd Tactical Fighter Squadron as they were known, would participate in a number of USAFE (United States in Europe) and NATO exercise with thier F-100D’s just in case of possible aggression from the Soviet Union, a number of these would take place around the United Kingdom, Turkey, Italy and Spain. In 1971 the Squadron would welcome another new aircraft type the McDonnell Douglas F-4D Phantom II, the transition took quite some time with the last F-100 Super Sabre departing Lakenheath in August 1974.
The F-4D’s adorned an ‘LK’ tail code which was not with them very long before the now more common ‘LN’ tail code was applied, the F-4’s were sent to the 474th TFW (Tactical Fighter Wing) based at Nellis AFB, Nevada, The F-4 would be replaced with the General Dynamic F-111F in 1977. The 48th TFW and its F-111F’s were used to conduct air strikes in Tripoli, Libya during Operations El Dorado Canyon, also the units F-111F’s would be used in Southwest Asia during Operation Desert Storm from January – February 1991. At the start of February 1994 the Squadron would replace its F-111F’s with the F-15C Eagle this didn’t just bring another new asset to the squadron but a whole new mission. After many years conducting Air to Ground missions the squadron would now take on the air to air combat missions, whilst their fellow squadrons at RAF Lakenheath would receive the F-15E Strike Eagle and keep their Air to Ground mission.
Some of the squadron’s F-15C’s were transferred from the 53rd Fighter Squadron ‘Tigers’ based out of Spangdahlem AB, Germany formerly based at Bitburg, Germany. Bitburg eagles would be sent in support of Operation Enduring Freedom (Gulf War) where they would be used to fly CAP (Combat Air Patrol) missions which they did with great success with no F-15’s being lost during combat missions, the 53rd FS was inactivated on 31st March 1999. Whilst deployed during Operations Enduring freedom four of the F-15C’s accumulated a number of kills:
84-0010 F-15C 53rd FS x1 SU-22
84-0015 F-15C 53rd FS PC-9 Target flew into the ground whilst being pursued.
84-0019 F-15C 53rd FS x2 SU-25 this aircraft was also part of the attack on a Serbian Mig29 alongside 86-0156 this kill was firstly accredited to 84-0019 but was reassessed and was rewarded to 86-0156 after it was found that 156 fired on both Migs.
84-0027 F-15C 53rd FS x1 Mig23 and x1 Mirage F1.
During Operation Allied force deployed under the 493rd Expeditionary Fighter Squadron pilots: Lt. Colonel Cesar ‘Rico’ Rodriguez, Captain Michael Shower, Captain Jeffery ‘Claw’ Hwang. The first MiG kill would come on the 24th March 1999 when a Serbian MiG.29 was downed over Bosnian Air Space by an AIM-120 AMRAAM missile which had been fired from ‘Knife 13’ 86-0169 being flown by Lt Col Cesar ‘Rico’ Rodriguez this kill would add to his two other kills that he gained whilst serving with the 33rd TFS/33rd TFW these two kills consisted of a MiG.23 and a MiG 29.
On the same day a second Serbian MiG 29 was downed again by an AIM-120 missile this time coming from ‘Edge 61’ 86-0159 being flown by Captain Michael Shower. Both MiG 29 pilots survived by ejecting safely form the aircraft. Two days after these victories two more Serbian MiG.29’s were downed by ‘Dirk 21’ 86-0156 flown by Captain Jeffery ‘Claw’ Hwang who again used the AIM-120 AMRAAM missile to score these kills.
86-0156 F-15C 493rd EFS x2 Mig29’s
86-0159 F-15C 493rd EFS x1 Mig 29
86-0169 F-15C 493rd EFS x1 Mig29 this aircraft was sadly lost along with its pilot in 2001 during a low level training sortie in Scotland.
These ‘Kill’ markings were signified on the side of the F-15’s with national flags, before being replaced by green stars, which adorn the jets now.
The unit currently has a canopy section which is located in the entrance of the Grim Reaper’s Ops building, they also have a rear stabilizer of a Serbian Mig 29 that was shot down mounted in their squadron bar. The squadron also has a bottle of vodka that was awarded to Lt Col Rodriquez and will be presented to the next 493rd Fighter Squadron ace.
The 493rd Fighter Squadron’s current operations have consisted of constant training to be prepared to be deployed at any time which the squadron has proved with many deployments under the 493rd Expeditionary Fighter Squadron these deployments included countries like Iceland, Lithuania and other Baltic states for the Baltic Air Policing missions where the jets, maintainers and pilots would have to be ready to scramble the F-15C’s to intercept any aircraft that could possibly cause harm to those Baltic states as well as these deployments just recently they deployed to Turkey in support of Operation Inherent Resolve where they deployed six F-15C Eagles to conduct CAP (Combat Air Patrol) missions to hold air superiority on both of these deployments the squadron was again under the 493rd Expeditionary Fighter Squadron. Besides these missions the squadron also deploys on exercise around Europe to help the crews develope understanding of how other countries operate most recently the Grim Reapers have been to Portugal under the Exercise Real Thaw 2016 where they would operate alongside the Portuguese Air Force and there block 15 Lockheed Martin F-16A/B’s.
The 493rd Fighter Squadron currently flies 21 all-weather air superiority MSIP II McDonnell Douglas F-15C Eagles and two F-15D’s, the MSIP II F-15C program started in 1983, with the first MSIP II equipped F-15C Eagle 84-0001 flying for the first time on 20 June 1985. The MSIP II modification allows the F-15C’s to carry upgraded AIM 7 Sparrows, AIM 9/AIM 9X and the AIM 120 AMRAAM missiles, all these missiles grouped with the jets internal 940 rounds of ammunition M-61A1 Vulcan 20mm 6-barrel gun really shows how deadly the eagle is.
The F-15C is a manoeuvrable tactical fighter which is tasked with gaining and keeping air supremacy over the area of battle. The USAF was in need for a new fighter after the MIG-25 ‘Foxbat’ was released due to the jet being more advanced than the current USAF jet of the time the F-4 Phantom, after McDonnell Douglas (now merged with Boeing) won the contract and they came up with the F-15 Eagle. The eagle has become the most successful USAF fighter ever built having never been beaten in actual combat and the eagle also is the current record holder for the ‘time to climb’ record, from the ground to 30,000ft in less than 1 minute.
Reheat Aviation has been fortunate enough to spend some time with the 493rd Fighter Squadron and to get a small insight into what life is like for the Grim Reapers. On the afternoon of 24th September 2015 we arrived at the Grim Reaper’s building and met the two pilots that would be flying the afternoon sortie and watched them do there briefing where they were told where the mission would be held for the day the runway in use which was runway 24 which was runway 24 and all the weather before stepping to the jet. We would be accompanying Captain Matthew ‘Grate’ Scott to aircraft 84-0027 the 493rd Fighter Squadrons commander’s aircraft. On arrival to the jet the aircraft maintainers of the 493rd AMXS where waiting with the jet fully prepared for the mission, Captain Scott –
would then meet with a member of the crew chief team and survey the aircraft maintenance documents, on completion of that Captain Scott would then commence a pre-flight check which consists of walking around the whole aircraft checking everything is good for take-off such as all panel are shut and secured, once the walk around has been completed Captain Scott then climbs the ladder and into the cockpit to do all the system checks and get the jet ready for engine start.
Once engines are running the crew chief team monitor are the flight dynamic checks that are carried out before the jet is ready to taxi. Once ready to taxi the cockpit shuts and the crew chief the marshals the aircraft out of the spot, once the Captain Scott has completed some finals checks he calls to continue taxi to runway 24 via arm up.
Before the jets actually get airborne they taxi to the EOR (end of runway) area where the jet is met by another set of personnel waiting to arm the jet, so once the F-15 is marshalled into position and brakes are set, the armourer then chock the jet so it doesn’t move whilst people are walking around it, the personnel then remove all the remove before flights tags and pins from the wheels and missiles to make them live. Once both jets were ready they continued taxi to the runway, we were lucky thanks to Captain Brian Davis to be positioned next to the runway just around where the eagles would be rotating, once the eagles had raced passed us and started to climb away from the runway before being cleared on course and cleared to climb to a set altitude they soon disappeared into the distance to carry out their mission.
On our second visit to the Grim Reapers we would be witnessing the squadron during a surge week, the 48th Fighter Wing through the month of March conduct surge ops which consist of conducting a larger amount of sorties in a short amount of time. After departures started around 07:30am we would wait for them to return.
The jets were in a slick configuration where they have no external fuel tanks just practise rounds that are fitted to the wing tank hard points, this configuration is chosen for the dog fight training so that the pilots get the full performance on the aircraft during offensive and defensive manoeuvres but this also means the jets run out of fuel quicker so they RTB (Return to Base) and do a hot pit. Once the jets have landed and taxied clear of the active and taxi to the EOR and have the remove before flight tags applied and the pins are put back into wheels and missiles before they shut one engine down and taxi to the pits. Once arriving at the pits the jet is met by ground crew again who chock the jet in to prevent it moving during this process, once chocked the ground crew start the ground fed refuelling which is connected to the underside of the F-15 and once the refuelling is complete the jets then proceed back out to runway 06 for departure again.
The 493rd Fighter Squadron’s history shows how professional and what a legendary Squadron they are but to prove that further the squadron are the current holders of the Raytheon trophy this is awarded to the best fighter squadron of the year if that be for the best air-superiority or the best air-defence and the Grim Reapers have won this award on four separate occasions 1997, 1999,2007 and 2014, they were awarded this trophy in 2014 for their work in the Icelandic air policing role and for the interception of Russian aircraft over the Baltic.
The future of the 493rd Fighter Squadron is currently unknown but one thing is for sure the 493rd will continue to work along side other squadrons from around the world to keep its reputation of being one of the most legendary and best Fighter Squadrons in the United States Air Force. MORS INIMICIS