Aviation photographer Matt Smart today captured an eye-catching sequence of shots of a U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle suffering a dramatic incident on takeoff from its base at RAF Lakenheath in England. Most surprisingly, perhaps, it seems the aircrew were not necessarily even aware of what had happened, initially at least, and continued their sortie.
Online flight tracking data available from ADS-B Exchange, seen further below, shows the jet taking off at approximately 9:02 AM local time before heading out over the North Sea coast and not returning to the airfield until around 10:56 AM.
“From what I heard the pilot reported no issues with handing etcetera and stayed out for a while; we were expecting him to return to base, but he didn’t,” Matt told The War Zone. “I understand that someone also phoned the base about it to make them aware.”
Unconfirmed reports suggest that the trail of sparks emitted from the F-15E’s right-side Pratt & Whitney F100 turbofan was caused by a broken nozzle petal and actuator.
In normal operation, the actuator controls the nozzle petals, increasing the diameter of the exhaust when the afterburner is engaged, and the thrust output increases dramatically.
Whatever the case, it seems there was no immediate cause for alarm from the crew of F-15E, serial number 91-0302, which is assigned to the 492nd Fighter Squadron, the “Madhatters,” part of Lakenheath’s hard-worked 48th Fighter Wing. The parent wing also includes the 493rd Fighter Squadron, “Grim Reapers,” flying the F-15C/D, and the 494th Fighter Squadron, “Panthers,” also equipped with the F-15E. Before long, the base will host the Air Force’s first overseas-based F-35A unit, the 495th Fighter Squadron, “Valkyries.”
While the incident on departure from Lakenheath certainly looked alarming, it’s well known that the F-15E is a tough jet and this one seems to have been able to continue its sortie before returning safely to base. How long the aircrew was oblivious to what was happening at the opposite end of their jet as they climbed out is not clear. Now, however, whatever damage was done will no doubt be left in the capable hands of the base’s maintenance group.
Video of previous F-15E operations by the 492nd Fighter Squadron out of Lakenheath: