Tag Archives: Air Combat

13 January 2012

F-15E-47-MC Strike Eagle 89-0487 at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, 13 January 2012. (Photograph by Airman 1st Class Ericka Engblom, USAF)
McDonnell Douglas F-15E-47-MC Strike Eagle 89-0487, assigned to the 335th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, taxis into its revetment at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, 13 January 2012. Note the World War II Eagle Squadron insignia and the green star kill mark painted on the fighter bomber’s nose. (Photograph by Airman 1st Class Ericka Engblom, USAF)

13 January 2012: This McDonnell Douglas F-15E-47-MC Strike Eagle, 89-0487, became the first F-15 to have logged over 10,000 flight hours. Regularly assigned to Captain Justin Pavoni, Pilot, and Lieutenant Colonel David Moeller, Weapons System Officer and commander of the 335th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, on the mission which achieved the milestone, 487 was flown by Captain Ryan Bodenheimer, pilot, and Captain Erin Short, WSO, the two youngest flyers in the squadron.

89-0487 was accepted by the Air Force on 13 November 1990. At the time of this event, 487 was considered to be the flag ship of the 335th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron. During a three month period at Bagram Air Base, this individual F-15E flew 1,200 hours and dropped 15% of all the bombs dropped by the squadron.

During Operation Desert Storm, Captains Tim Bennett and Dan Bakke, USAF, flying this F-15E, call sign “Packard 41,” used a GBU-10 Paveway II 2,000-pound laser-guided bomb to “shoot down” an Iraqi Mi-24 Hind attack helicopter. 487 is the only F-15E to have scored an air-to-air victory.

This airplane is still in service with the United States Air Force. It passed 12,000 flight hours on 16 August 2016. It has been deployed for combat operations 17 times.

McDonnell Douglas F-15E Strike Eagle 89-0487 lands at Bagram Air Base after passing its 10,000th flight hour, 13 January 2012. (Airman 1st Class Ericka Engblom, U.S. Air Force)
With Captains Bodenheimer and Short in the cockpit, McDonnell Douglas F-15E-47-MC Strike Eagle 89-0487 lands at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, after passing its 10,000th flight hour, 13 January 2012. (Airman 1st Class Ericka Engblom, U.S. Air Force)

The Strike Eagle was begun as a private venture by McDonnell Douglas. Designed to be operated by a pilot and a weapons system officer (WSO), the airplane can carry bombs, missiles and guns for a ground attack role, while maintaining its capability as an air superiority fighter. It’s airframe was a strengthened and its service life doubled to 16,000 flight hours. The Strike Eagle became an Air Force project in March 1981, and  went into production as the F-15E. The first production model, 86-0183, made its first flight 11 December 1986.

Capt. Ryan Bodenheimer celebrates as he and Capt. Erin Short taxi onto the runway in F-15E Strike Eagle #89-0487 before the mission that will bring its logged flying hours up to 10,000. (U.S. Air Force photo/ Airman 1st Class Ericka Engblom)

The McDonnell Douglas F-15E Strike Eagle is a two-place twin-engine multi-role fighter. It is 63 feet, 9 inches (19.431 meters) long with a wingspan of 42 feet, 9¾ inches (13.049 meters) and height of 18 feet, 5½ inches (5.626 meters). It weighs 31,700 pounds (14,379 kilograms) empty and has a maximum takeoff weight of 81,000 pounds (36,741 kilograms). The F-15E is powered by two Pratt and Whitney F100-PW-229 turbofan engines which produce 17,800 pounds of thrust (79.178 kilonewtons) each, or 29,100 pounds (129.443 kilonewtons) with afterburner.

Captain Ryan Bodenheimer climbs down from the cockpit of F-15E Strike Eagle 89-0487 after completing the mission in which the aircraft passed the 10,000 flight hour mark. (U.S. Air Force)

The Strike Eagle has a maximum speed of Mach 2.54 (1,676 miles per hour, (2,697 kilometers per hour) at 40,000 feet (12,192 meters) and is capable of sustained speed at Mach 2.3 (1,520 miles per hour, 2,446 kilometers per hour). Its service ceiling is 60,000 feet (18,288 meters). The fighter-bomber has a combat radius of 790 miles (1,271 kilometers) and a maximum ferry range of 2,765 miles (4,450 kilometers).

Though optimized as a fighter-bomber, the F-15E Strike Eagle retains an air-to-air combat capability. The F-15E is armed with one 20mm M61A1 Vulcan 6-barrel rotary cannon with 512 rounds of ammunition, and can carry four AIM-9M Sidewinder heat-seeking missiles and four AIM-7M Sparrow radar-guided missiles, or a combination of Sidewinders, Sparrows and AIM-120 AMRAAM long range missiles. It can carry a maximum load of 24,500 pounds (11,113 kilograms) of bombs and missiles for ground attack.

McDonnell Douglas F-15E-47-MC Eagle 89-0487, at Lakenheath, 19 October 2019. The aircraft was photographed by Bradley Bygrave, and the image is used with permission.

© 2020, Bryan R. Swopes

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8 January 1973

McDonnell F-4D-29-MC Phantom II 65-0796 at Yokota AB, Japan, 1972. (U.S. Air Force)
McDonnell F-4D-29-MC Phantom II 65-0796 at Yokota AB, Japan, 1972. (U.S. Air Force)

8 January 1973: Captain Paul D. Howman and First Lieutenant Lawrence W. Kullman, 4th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 432d Tactical Reconnaissance Wing, flying McDonnell F-4D-29-MC Phantom II 65-0796, were leading a flight of two fighters on combat air patrol in Route Pack III. Their call sign was CRAFTY ONE. A U.S. Navy guided missile cruiser, call sign RED CROWN, was steaming in the Gulf of Tonkin off the coast of North Vietnam, providing radar coverage for the fighters.

The following is a recount of the last USAF MiG kill in Southeast Asia; it occurred on 8 January 1973.

Crafty, a flight of two F-4s from the 4th Tactical Fighter Squadron, was assigned a night MiGCAP mission in support of B-52 strikes. They ingressed North Vietnam through the “Gorilla’s Head” and established their CAP about 70 miles southwest of Hanoi. The pilot of Crafty One was Captain Paul D. Howman. His backseater was First Lieutenant Lawrence W. Kullman. The following is Captain Howman’s description of the kill.

Because of its advanced air search radars and digital computers, the nuclear-powered guided missile cruiser USS Long Beach (CGN-9) frequently served as RED CROWN. (U.S. Navy)

“About five minutes after arriving on station, we were advised by Red Crown that a MiG was airborne out of Phuc Yen and was heading southwest toward the inbound strike force. They vectored us northwest and told us he had leveled at 13,000 feet. Passing through [a heading of] north, we picked him up on radar at about 60 miles. We were able to follow him most of the way in as the range decreased. At about 30 miles, I called 02 and we jettisoned our centerline tanks.”

Crafty One and Two descended to 12,000 feet at 400 knots, still taking vectors. Red Crown turned them to a northeasterly heading. At 16 miles, Red Crown cleared Crafty to fire. Captain Howman’s account continues.

“At 10 miles I got a visual on an afterburner plume 20 degrees right and slightly high. I called him out to the backseater and put the pipper on him. At 6 miles Lt. Kullman got a good full-system radar lock-on. Range was about 4 miles and overtake 900+ knots when I squeezed the trigger. The missile came off, did a little roll to the left, and tracked toward the “burner plume.” It detonated 50 feet short of his tail.

“I squeezed another one off at 2 miles range. This one just pulled some lead, then went straight for the MiG. It hit him in the fuselage and the airplane exploded and broke into three big flaming pieces.”

"Craft 01", McDonnell F-4D-29-MC Phantom II 65-0796 on static display at William E. Dyess Elementary School, Abilene, Texas. (Abilene School District photo)
“Crafty 01”, McDonnell F-4D-29-MC Phantom II 65-0796 on static display at William E. Dyess Elementary School, Abilene, Texas. (Abilene School District photo)

After determining there were no more MiGs in the area, Crafty returned to orbit for their remaining CAP period. They returned to base without further incident.

 The Tale of Two Bridges ; and The Battle for the Skies Over North Vietnam, by Major A. J. C. Lavalle, USAF, editor, Office of Air Force History, Washington, D.C., 1985, Chapter VI at Page 187–188.

The MiG 21 that Howman and Kullman shot down was the last air-to-air victory by the United States Air Force during the Vietnam War. Both men were awarded the Silver Star.

Their airplane, 65-0796, served another seventeen years before being retired. Today, it is on display at William E. Dyess Elementary School, Abilene, Texas.

A Mikoyan Gurevich MiG-21 at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)
An Aero Vodochody-built MiG 21F-13 with the markings of the Vietnam Peoples’ Air Force at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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31 October 1940

A British civilian air observer searches the sky over London for enemy bombers. (National Archives and Records Administration)

31 October 1940. “All Clear.” The Battle of Britain, which began on 10 July 1940, came to an end. It was a decisive victory for the Royal Air Force.

The German Luftwaffe began its bombing campaign against Britain with the intention of forcing the R.A.F. to defend the cities. The German leaders believed that they could destroy the Royal Air Force in air-to-air combat. It was necessary to eliminate the British air service in order to proceed with the cross-Channel invasion of the British Isles, Operation Sea Lion.

Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding, Royal Air Force, GCB, GCVO, CMG, 1st Baron Dowding. (Imperial War Museum)

Commander of Fighter Command, Air Chief Marshall Hugh Dowding, understood that he needed to choose when and where to fight. Using the secret Chain Home system of radar stations, he was able to place his fighter squadrons above the German bomber formations.

Though Germany started the Battle with a 3:2 advantage in numbers of airplanes (and most of them more modern and superior to the majority of aircraft Britain had available for its defense), the Hawker Hurricane and Supermarine Spitfire fighters took a heavy toll on Luftwaffe crews.

At the beginning of the Battle of Britain, the R.A.F. and Royal Naval Air Service had a total of 1,963 airplanes, most of them obsolete. Germany had 2,550 fighters and bombers, most of them very modern. By the end, however, Britain had lost 554 men killed, 422 wounded and 1,547 airplanes destroyed. Germany lost 2,698 killed, 967 captured and 638 missing, with 1,887 airplanes destroyed. Because the Luftwaffe directed most of its attacks against the civilian population, a concept of Total War which Germany had first used when its airships bombed London during World War I, 23,002 men, women and children were killed and 32,138 wounded.

Because of a system of dispersed manufacture, Britain was able to replace the losses in aircraft. Many pilots parachuted to safety and were able to return to combat immediately. Germany’s industrial output could not keep up with its combat losses, and the Luftwaffe could not replace the lost airmen.

Operation Sea Lion was cancelled. Hitler looked to the East.

Contrails over London during the Battle of Britain, 10 July–31 October 1940. (Imperial War Museum)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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14 October 1943: “Bloody Thursday”

B-17 Flying Fortresses attack Schweinfurt, Germany, 1943. (U.S. Air Force)

14 October 1943: A large force of 8th Air Force heavy bombers and escorting fighters attack the ball bearing factories at Schweinfurt, Germany, for the second time. Five bombardment groups sent 291 B-17 Flying Fortress four-engine heavy bombers on the raid.

A B-17F Flying Fortress going down over Europe. The left outboard engine is on fire and the right wing has been shot off. There are ten men in this airplane. (U.S. Air Force)

60 B-17s were shot down by German fighters or anti-aircraft artillery (“flak”). Another 17 were so heavily damaged that they crashed on landing back at their bases, or were so severely damaged that they were beyond repair. 121 B-17s received lesser damage. 594 crewmen were listed as Missing In Action (presumably Killed In Action). 65 men were captured and held as Prisoners of War. Of the bombers that returned to England 5 crewmen were killed and 43 were wounded. B-17 gunners shot down 35 to 38 Messerschmitt Bf 109s and Focke-Wulk Fw 190s. Another 20 fighters were damaged.

A B-17G Flying Fortress with its bomb bay doors open. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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9 October 1943

In this iconic World War II photograph, a Douglas-built B-17F-50-DL Flying Fortress, 42-3352, “Virgin’s Delight,” of the 410th Bomb Squadron, 94th Bombardment Group (Heavy), 8th Air Force, is over the Focke-Wulf Fw 190 fighter factory, Marienburg, East Prussia, 9 October 1943. The aircraft commander was Lieutenant R.E. Le Pore. (U.S. Air Force)

VIII Bomber Command Mission Number 113 was an attack by nearly 100 American heavy bombers on the Focke-Wulf Flugzeugbau AG aircraft factory at Marienburg, East Prussia (Malbork, Poland), where the Luftwaffe‘s Fw 190 fighter was being built. Early in the war, German fighter production had been dispersed and it was thought that Marienburg was beyond the range of Allied bombers.

The Fw 190 was the most effective of Germany’s fighters. More than 20,000 were built in 16 variants.

A captured Focke-Wulf Fw 190 in flight. (U.S. Air Force)
A captured Focke-Wulf Fw 190 G-3 fighter, DN+FP, W.Nr. 160016, in flight. (U.S. Air Force)
Focke-Wulf Fw 190 G-3 DN+FP, W.Nr. 160016, in flight near Wright Field, Ohio, May 1946. (U.S. Air Force)
Focke-Wulf Fw 190 G-3 DN+FP, W.Nr. 160016, from above and behind. (U.S. Air Force)

100 B-17 Flying Fortress bombers were assigned to the target and 96 of these reached the plant. Between 1253 hours and 1302 hours, the B-17s arrived over the target in five waves at 11,000 to 13,000 feet (3,353 to 3,963 meters). They dropped 217.9 tons (197.7 metric tons) of bombs with a very high degree of accuracy.

During the mission, two B-17s were lost with 13 more damaged. Three airmen were wounded and 21 listed as Missing in Action. The bomber crews claimed 9 Luftwaffe aircraft destroyed and 2 probably destroyed in air-to-air combat. Target assessment estimated that 15 Focke-Wulf Fw 190 fighters were destroyed on the ground.

This strike photo was taken from B-17 42-30353 ("Ten Knights in a Bar Room") of the 95th Bombardment Group (Heavy). (U.S. Air Force)
This strike photo was taken from Boeing B-17F-100-BO Flying Fortress 42-30353 (“Ten Knights in a Bar Room”) of the 95th Bombardment Group (Heavy). (U.S. Air Force)

Casualties among the factory work force were high. Of 669 workers, 114 were killed and 76 injured.

Air Chief Marshal Sir Charles Portal, KCB, DSO, MC, Royal Air Force, described the Marienburg attack as the “. . . most perfect example in history of the accurate distribution of bombs over a target.”

Damage assessment photograph
Reconnaissance photograph taken by a de Havilland DH.98 Mosquito PR flown by Squadron Leader R.A. Lenton and Pilot Officer Heney of No. 540 Squadron, R.A.F., 10 October 1943, showing results of the previous day’s attack. (Royal Air Force)
The target area as it appears today. (Google Maps)
"Instrument workers line up aerial cameras at Benson, Oxfordshire, before installing them in a De Havilland Mosquito PR Mark IX: (left to right) two Type F.24 (14-inch lens) vertical cameras, one F.24 (14-inch lens) oblique camera, two Type F.52 (36-inch lens) 'split pair' vertical cameras." (Imperial War Museum CH-18399)
“Instrument workers line up aerial cameras at Benson, Oxfordshire, before installing them in a De Havilland Mosquito PR Mark IX: (left to right) two Type F.24 (14-inch lens) vertical cameras, one F.24 (14-inch lens) oblique camera, two Type F.52 (36-inch lens) ‘split pair’ vertical cameras.” (Imperial War Museum CH-18399)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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