Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho was the scene for the USAF Gunfighter Skies Open House on September 20th to 21st, 2014. Mountain Home is the USAF base for the 366th Fighter Wing the “Gunfighters” (389th Fighter Squadron and 391st Fighter Squadron the “Bold Tigers“) operating the McDonnell Douglas (Boeing) F-15E Strike Eagle.
The F-15E is a two seat multi-role fighter (crewed by a pilot and weapons systems officer) derived from the single seat F-15 Eagle air superiority fighter. The Strike Eagle which first entered operational USAF service in 1989 is equipped with advanced avionics and electronic systems including a navigation pod terrain-following radar that gives it the ability to fly at extremely low-level and deliver weaponry with high accuracy in any weather, night or day. The USAF operate 219 F-15E’s of which around 50 are at Mountain Home AFB. The aircraft has been used in combat in Iraq, the Balkans, Afghanistan, Libya and most recently Syria.
Mountain Home is also the base to the training squadron of the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) 428th Fighter Squadron the “Buccaneers“. The 428th Fighter Squadron operates the F-15SG which is the latest variant of the Strike Eagle. Up to 32 are on order for the RSAF and the first of these were delivered in 2009 of which 12 operate from Mountain Home. It is essentially the same aircraft as the F-15E but is equipped with newer avionics and a glass cockpit (you couldn’t take photos of that though as it is still considered top-secret) and is the first F-15 to be fitted with an Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) Radar which has an extended detection range allowing the F-15SG to detect and then engage an air or ground target well before it is detected (it can also detect and track more targets than earlier radar systems). Another advanced system is the Joint Helmet-Mounted Cueing System (JHMCS) which allows the pilot to look in the direction of a target and the weapons systems will aim where the pilot is looking.
This was all pretty exciting for me not only because it was a chance to visit an air base and see some heavy metal take to the sky but also I had never seen an F-15E Strike Eagle static or flying before. It was basically the one current combat aircraft of the USAF I had never seen. By the end of day one of Gunfighter Skies I had seen 23! It was a great day!
During the show we were treated to a couple of flypasts by the “Buccaneers” and the raw power of the F-15SG (with two General Electric F110-GE-129 engines with afterburners providing 29,500 pounds of thrust the top speed of the aircraft is Mach 2.5+. The F-15E is fitted with two Pratt & Whitney F100-PW-220 or 229 turbofan engines with afterburners providing 25,000 – 29,000 pounds of thrust). To make this all cost-effective they were actually taking off to do a training mission each day of the air show. To me the F-15 is still one of the best looking combat aircraft flying today.
On the ground there was the opportunity to take a closer look at static Strike Eagles of both the RSAF and USA. This was very popular with the crowd and long lines were par for the course. I appreciated being able to get a glimpse of the massive payload of the F-15 Strike Eagle which at 10,400kg / 23,000 lbs of fuel and ordnance means they can be bristling with weaponry (it can carry most conventional/nuclear bombs and air to ground missiles operated by the USAF including the AGM-130 and Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM); as well as up to 4 x AIM-9 Sidewinder short-range air-to-air missiles and 4 x AIM-120 AMRAAM advanced medium range air-to-air missiles. An internal General Dynamics M-61A1 20mm rotary cannon with 500 rounds is a standard fit in the wing root of the F-15E and F-15SG). Very impressive and lethal!
Unfortunately the USAF F-15E’s didn’t take to the skies but we were treated to something special from the air force. The headliners for the show were the USAF Thunderbirds. They never fail to impress. There were also numerous other flying displays and static aircraft from World War Two and beyond, but more on that in future posts.