F-15C Eagle’s finest hour
F-15C FROM THE COCKPIT
In our March issue, in production as the 25th Anniversary of the beginning of Operation Desert Storm’ is marked, Warren Thompson provides a fascinating look back at some of the F-15C ‘kills’ during the campaign.
The F-15C was a major force for the coalition in ‘Desert Storm’ and ended the war with the most air-to-air kills.
After the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait on August 1, 1990, US Air Force Eagles began arriving in the Gulf on August 6, when the 1st Tactical Fighter Wing (TFW) sent its jets to Dhahran Air Base in Saudi Arabia. Initially, the F-15E Strike Eagle did not deploy, due to a lack of targeting pods for its LANTIRN system, which was being installed at the time. The second round of F-15C deployments to Saudi Arabia began in November 1990 when the 33rd TFW deployed its 58th Tactical Fighter Squadron (TFS) to Tabuk AB from its home at Bitburg AB, Germany. As 1990 came to a close, the number of F-15C squadrons increased as a plan evolved to control the skies over Iraq and Kuwait.
The 53rd TFS deployed out of Bitburg on December 20, 1990 during the final stages of Operation ‘Desert Shield’, which involved the preparations for the war ahead. The 53rd’s base was to be Al Kharj AB, also known as Prince Sultan AB.
Once the Eagles had settled in, they began to fly combat air patrols (CAPs) and then commenced intensive training missions that were co-ordinated as part of the much larger force that would be employed when the fighting began. On the first night of the air war, January 17, 1991, six enemy aircraft were shot down over Iraq and the first to fall was an Iraqi Air Force MiG-29 downed by Capt John Kelk of the 58th TFS.
Ten days later, the air war over Iraq was in full force when element leads in the same flight downed four enemy aircraft. Capt Jay ‘OP’ Denney bagged two Iraqi MiG-23s while Capt Ben ‘Coma’ Powell shot down another MiG-23 followed by a Mirage F1. All four kills registered that night were credited to the 53rd TFS. Twenty-five years on, Capt Jay ‘OP’ Denney recalls the events of January 27, 1991, when he and his wingman flew what was probably the most successful single engagement of the entire war.