The 493rd Fighter Squadron’s Visit to Israel
Report and Photos by Noam Menasche
Exercise Blue Flag is a biannual multinational exercise that takes place for one week in Ovda Air Force Base, in the Israeli desert, in a set of rules that is derived by the American Exercise Red Flag held at Nellis AFB, Nevada. Blue Flag 2015’s participants were squadrons from Israel (naturally) with their F-15 on its various models and F-16I’s, United States with F-15C and Poland and Greece with their F-16’s. Like Red Flag there is a dedicated aggressor squadron called the “Red Dragon”, operating the old F-16A as well as specialized ground instruments and personnel simulating SAMs and other ground threats. The exercise is a great opportunity for pilots from different countries, speaking different languages and using different tactics to work on their coordination as a one large multinational force, since most of those pilots are a part of the striking force of the coalition against ISIS in Iraq and Syria and as part of NATO. It is also a great platform for them to meet and learn about the various models and versions of the aircraft each unit uses.
One of the units taking part in this exercise is the 493rd fighter squadron of the 48th FW based at RAF Lakenheath, England. Nicknamed “The Grim Reapers” and operating the good old F-15C eagle since 1994, this glorious unit has taken part in every war since World War II in numerous operations in Europe, Africa and the Middle East. To our surprise, one of the aircraft even wore 2 MiG-29 kill marks from 1999 during Operation “Allied Force”. For security reasons, the exercise was closed for the media, and ever since I heard that the 493rd is coming to Israel for the exercise I did everything I could, and pulled every string I had, to make a dream come true and watch the unit in action. You can only imagine the excitement I felt when the 48th FW Public affairs officer, Lt. Rizer, informed me and a good friend of mine (and a great photographer on his own) that we are the only 2 individuals approved to enter Ovda Base and spend a day with the squadron.
We started the day by visiting the squadron in their assigned spot on the base. Basically, when it is mentioned that a squadron is deploying to a new base of operations, weather if it is for training or operational reasons, it means that the whole unit on its different elements including the maintenance, headquarters and even the human resources components are deployed, so we had the priceless opportunity to shoot the maintenance personnel work on the aircraft inside the hangers. Afterwards, we were permitted to photograph the various training platforms – one to simulate the AMRAAM missile and one for the Sidewinder system. Both of them are basically missiles bodies including the tracking mechanism without the launch capability so the pilot can practice the track and lock procedures of the missiles. To end this great visit, we got a front seat view and an interesting angle by standing on one of the hangers to photograph the taxis and the takeoffs of the squadron’s aircraft.
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