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The F-15E Strike Eagle
To meet the US Air Force (USAF) requirement for air-to-ground missions, the F-15E Strike Eagle was developed. It made its first flight from St. Louis in December 1986. The Strike Eagle can carry 23,000 pounds of air-to-ground and air-to-air weapons and is equipped with an advanced navigation and an infrared targeting system, protecting the Strike Eagle from enemy defenses. This allows the Strike Eagle to fly at a low altitude while maintaining a high-speed, even during bad weather or at night.
The first production model of the F-15E was delivered to the 405th Tactical Training Wing, Luke AFB, Arizona, in April 1988.
The F-15E saw action for the first time during Operation Desert Storm, the campaign which took place between Jan. 17, 1991 and Feb. 28, 1991 with the aim to free Kuwait from the Iraqi invasion.
One of the most unique air-to-air kills in aviation history: When an F-15E shot down a Mi-24
It was during this conflict that F-15E Strike Eagle #89-0487, or “487” for short, from 335th Tactical Fighter Squadron (TFS, today 335th Fighter Squadron, FS) “Chiefs” was credited with one of the most unique air-to-air kills in aviation history (that coincided with the F-15E first air-to-air victory).
The kill was achieved on Feb. 14, by the F-15E callsign Packard 41 flown by Capt. Richard “TB” Bennett as pilot and Capt. Dan “Chewie” Bakke as WSO (Weapons System Officer). Packard 41 was part of a flight of two F-15Es performing a Scud patrol, when the AWACS ordered them to destroy three Iraqi helicopters dismounting troops in the same zone in which several US Special Forces members were operating.
Cleared to Pickle
When the two Strike Eagles approached the target area, Packard 41 radar became intermittent as explained by Chewie in Craig Brown’s book Debrief, A Complete History of US Aerial Engagements, 1981 to Present “What the radar was seeing was the rotation of the rotor blades, but it couldn’t hold a lock. So I decided to see if I can see them in the Targeting pod. Bakke saw two of the helicopters, or more correctly their rotors spinning in the LANTIRN pod. So he had to transition almost entirely to the pod, since as Bakke explained “the radar wasn’t much help at that point. Our mindset was turning to a ground attack…”
After Packard 41 directed the other Strike Eagle to remain up in a high-cover and after having received the AWACS confirm to destroy the enemy helicopters, TB and Chewie armed and selected one of their four GBU-10 bombs, as Bakke recalls “TB queries me as to whether I’m good for a release. I’ve got good laser ranging to the target, but I hold off for just a little bit-no technical reason, just a gut feeling. Finally, I call “Cleared to Pickle” and when TB pickles-off 2,000 pounds the aircraft immediately responded by shuttering and lurching upward.”
When an F-15E shot down an Iraqi Mi-24 with a 2000lb laser-guided bomb
After having released the bomb, TB did a left designator turn but the GBU-10 time to impact quickly arrived to zero and Chewie believed that the bomb had failed to impact. But at some point, the bomb appeared on Bakke display as he recalls;
“It was angled nose high, then started down and penetrated through the rotors, and the scintillation of the rotors as they disintegrated was easily discerned in the LANTIRN pod. The GBU-10 then entered into the cockpit of the helicopter, and while it was coming out of the bottom of the aircraft the fuse delay functioned. Then a tremendous explosion disintegrated the helicopter in a huge fireball.”
After this kill, the F-15E tried to engage the other two helicopters by using its AIM-9s, but other Strike Eagles were dispatched to attack them by dropping their bombs which eventually they could have hit Packard 41, so TB and Chewie were forced to leave the zone.
Despite they lost the chance to shoot down the other two helicopters, TB and Chewie received the most important acknowledgment the day after, when the Black Hole (as the HQ in Riyadh was known) called them to express their gratitude for having downed a Mi-24 Hind gunship and saved 17 members of the Special Forces.
Debrief: a complete history of U.S. aerial engagements 1981 to the present is published by Schiffer Publishing and is available to order here.
Photo credit: Master Sgt. Lance Cheung, James D’Angina and MSGT STEVEN TURNER / U.S. Air Force