Twenty-year-celebration of three F-15Es, the RAF Lakenheath fighter jets

It was the difference between a black and white and a colour television set...

That was how one USAF serviceman yesterday described an arrival almost two decades ago of the newest fighter jets of the time.

On February 21, RAF Lakenheath will celebrate the passing of 20 years since it took possession of three F-15Es arrived which marked a turning point at the base, near Brandon.

Designed to perform air-to-air and air-to-ground missions, the planes have since been launched on US and NATO deployments to Iraq, Kosovo, Afghanistan and, most recently, Libya.

Master Sergeant Robert Griffith, 48th Operations Support Squadron unit deployment manager, said: 'I've had a taxi ride in an F-111 and F-15E and it's the difference between watching a black and white TV and colour.

'The biggest thing I found was the mindset of the people. I'm not going to say the F-111 attracted old fogies here but we had certain types of personalities until we brought in a completely new plane with new capabilities.

'It's like they had something to prove - it was the new bad boy on the block. I love everything about what these type of aircraft can provide.'

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One of the most important additions to the F-15E, which superseded the F-111 at RAF Lakenheath, was the rear cockpit and weapons systems operator.

This officer could display information from the radar, electronic warfare or infrared sensors, monitor aircraft or weapons status and possible threats, select targets and use an electronic 'moving map' to navigate, all on four screens.

Lieutenant-Colonel John Orchard, 492nd Fighter Squadron commander, said RAF Lakenheath currently had 75 F-15s in total, with around two thirds of these being F-15Es.

He added: 'When a conflict arises we often think of the hot spot being in the Middle East and we're the closest ones to the fight.

'It means Lakenheath has been called into these conflicts time and time again because of how quickly they can get to the fight and provide air power to NATO.

'It means we're very busy and people work very hard and there's never a day of rest. The engineers did a fantastic job and the F-15s will last a lot longer than any of us expected.'

The base is the only one in Europe with F-15 capabilities.

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