Eagle rises at Duxford
Gary Stedman reports on the official unveiling of Duxford's recently refurbished F-15A Eagle.
2002 is a big year for both the McDonnell-Douglas (now Boeing) F-15 Eagle and the United States Air Force in the UK. The fact that this year marks the sixtieth anniversary of the start of USAF operations in this country will hardly have been missed by many of the more senior enthusiasts amongst us, a milestone that will no doubt be noted at many events during the forthcoming season. What may have escaped the notice of many is that it also the thirtieth anniversary of the first flight of the F-15, as well as ten years since the first F-15E arrived in the UK to replace the F-111s of the Lakenheath-based 48th Fighter Wing.
Appropriately then, the Imperial War Museum at Duxford has acquired an example of this superlative interceptor for public display. Although the Eagle was restored last September and has since been on display outside, late January saw it formally unveiled to the aviation press. Moved in front of the American Air Museum for the occasion, the museum's F-15 was joined by the team of volunteers from RAF Lakenheath who, alongside Duxford's own technical staff, reassembled and restored the aircraft to the pristine condition in which it can now be seen.
Arriving alongside the SR-71 and F-105 in April last year, initially F-15A 76-0020 still bore some markings from its final operator - the Louisiana ANG, and its AMARC identification (FH074) where the jet had resided since 1994. Unlike the Blackbird, '020 was hardly in a condition to go on immediate static display, the aircraft having been broken down into major sub-assemblies for transport over from the United States. With the professionals at RAF Lakenheath close at hand, a team of keen volunteers swiftly offered their services, and over a few days, put everything back as it should be.
Today the aircraft wears the well known 'BT' tailcode of the 36th Tactical Fighter Wing, formerly based at Bitburg, Germany. Museum staff were able to locate a photograph of '020 in these markings, taken during a visit to RAF Lakenheath in the late 1970s and have faithfully repainted the airframe. Later service appears to be less well documented, but airframes from the same block have been photographed at Luke (58th TFTW) and Minot (5th FIS) prior to most early F-15A/Bs being passed over to the Air National Guard. Service with the ANG included a spell with the Massachusetts ANG (101st FS) before being finally turned over to its final operator, the Louisiana ANG (122nd FS).
Surprisingly, the airframe is actually only on 'loan' from the USAF museum at Wright-Patterson AFB, although for what circumstances the aircraft would need to be recalled are rather hard to imagine! Nevertheless, the IWM is actively investigating the possibilities of a permanent transfer. Museum Director Ted Inman OBE was quick to acknowledge the assistance from the USAF volunteers, highlighting their work as yet another example of close UK-USA relations in East Anglia.
a UK first with the F-15, perhaps the IWM should make its naval counterpart
their next target, particularly as the chances of seeing a F-14 at a British
airshow appear to be diminishing with each remaining year - after all,
it's not as if there's a shortage of F-14 airframes at AMARC either!