My week at Mountain Home AFB concluded with a once in a lifetime opportunity to fly in the back seat of an F-15E Strike Eagle. With the cooperation of the Indian Air Force and United States Air Force at the highest levels, I was authorized to capture some air to air images of the two countries flying together for the first time in the United States.
After meeting with the pilots of JABBA 2 (the Lead F-15E from the 391st FS), TYPHOON 1 (the SU-30 MKI) , MIG 1 (F-16C from the 18th AGR), SNORT 3 (F-15C from the 390th FS), BURNER 1 (F-15C from the 85th TEG), and JABBA 3 (the F-15E from the 391st that I am flying in), we carefully crafted a plan to maximize the time in the air with as many images as possible. With this many aircraft in the air, communication was key. And this was just another exercise where the IAF and USAF worked together flawlessly. Fingertip four, echelon, individual shots, and the tanker shots were all briefed. Frequencies, whose flying the lead, formation changes, and safety checks were all discussed in great detail. When it was all said and done, I knew this was going to be one heck of a shoot.
As I got out of the briefing I ran into Group Captain Ajay Rathore and Commander Dangi, flight commander of the No. 20 “Lightnings” Squadron, based at Lohegaon Air Force Station in Pune, India. They were very gracious to give me a few minutes of their time and grant me an interview. Having lived in California for my entire life, it was an honor to meet my fellow Indians and have them welcome me with open arms.
With the briefing wrapped up, it was time to suit up and head out to the jet; 90-0237. And what a beauty she was. And my uber cool pilot for today was Captain Mark “Buddy” Pauly, a combat tested F-15E pilot. Up the ladder, strap in to the ACES II ejection seat, stow the camera gear, connect the G Suit, Regulator, comms on, visor down, and we’re good to go!
All the checks at the EOR (End of Runway) were good and as the third ship in the three ship formation, we were cleared for take off. Accelerating from idle power to maximum afterburner in less than four second, theF100-PW-229 engines and their 58,000 pounds of thrust were a kick in the pants as we accelerated down the runway. Pull the nose up, gear up and locked and a with a quick snap to the left, we were gone!
The other two aircraft in our formation, F-15E’s from the 391st FS and 85th TEG, formed up for a few quick pannel and comm checks and then headed off to the fight with the other Blue Force players. Then it was my turn to get a 45 min orientation in the Strike Eagle.
The F-15E Strike Eagle is a dual-role fighter designed to perform air-to-air and air-to-ground missions. Jamm packed with special avionics and electronics systems, they give the F-15E the capability to fight at low altitude, day or night, and in all weather. And I was a WSO (Weapons System Officer) for the day!
I got a taste of what it was like to fly in a $31.1 million Fighter Jet! Loops, rolls, 6.9 G’s, and even breaking the sound barrier! Yup! I got a chance to go faster then the speed of sound! Mach 1.02!!!!!!!!! 🙂
Here is Buddy proving you can fly with no hands! 🙂 What a goofball! But one hell of a pilot as I was to learn.
And before I knew it, play time was over and it was time to get to work. One by one, the other 5 aircraft came back from the fight. Here’s a shot of me and the 391st FS F-15E Strike Eagle off of my right wing.
When all the players arrived, it was time to shoot the 5 ship. From furthest to nearest, an F-15C from the 390th FS from Mountain Home AFB, ID, an SU-30 MKI from the No. 20 “Lightnings” Squadron, based at Lohegaon Air Force Station in Pune, India, an F-15E from the 391st Fighter Squadron “Bold Tigers” from Mountain Home AFB, ID, an F-15C from the 85th Test & Evaluation Squadron from Eglin AFB, FL, and an F-16C from the 18th Aggressor Squadron from Eielson AFB, AK.
A quick formation change to the echelon formation.
And then the individual formations.
With only the F-15’s having exernal fuel tanks, fuel was running low for the F-16 and SU-30. MIG 1 bugged out with the 85th TES as his wingman, and the boys from Mountain Home escorted the SU-30 over to the tanker, which was over a hundred miles away. But when you’re flying as fast as we were, it took only a few minutes. The SU-30 MKI got gas from the Midas IL-78 tanker from No. 78 “Valorous MARS” Squadron, based at Agra Air Force Station in Agra, India, that was orbiting with the other SU’s from the fight. MARS stands for Mid-Air-Refuelling Squadron.
As the SU-30 MKI gets gas, we stayed in loose formation high and to the right.
After that it was time for a couple more maneuvers, and then RTB with SNORT 3. Here’s a shot showing just how close we flew together in formation. My pilot expertly manuvered our plane into all sorts of positions ensuring that I got the shot I needed.
Here is a shot of Buddy and I in front of our jet. Thank you sooooo much for such a memorable flight!!!!
This is a big, fast jet!
A special thanks to Lt. Gen. Norman R. Seip (Commander, 12th Air Force), Col James Browne (Commander of the 366th Fighter Wing at Mountain Home Air Force Base), Col James McGovern (Commander of the 366th Operations Group), Group Capt. Ajay Rathore of the IAF, SSGt Jasmine Reif from 366th FW/PA, and Capt Mark “Buddy” Pauly and the men and women of the 391st Bold Tigers. Without them and the hard working Airman from Mountain Home AFB, none of this would have been possible.