‘487’ more than just paint
By James D'Angina, 455 Air Expeditionary Wing History
/ Published April 24, 2008
BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan -- Airmen from the 335th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron here are making history daily, as the "Chiefs" from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C., take the fight to the Anti-Afghanistan Forces in combat operations throughout Afghanistan.
But one of the squadron's aircraft, F-15E Strike Eagle #89-0487, or "487" for short, carries with it a unique distinction in air combat history - it is the only F-15E in the Air Force inventory to be credited with an air-to-air kill.
The historic aircraft deployed in 1991 for Operation Desert Shield/Storm, and has seen multiple deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq supporting Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom.
The aircraft, delivered to the 4th Fighter Wing at Seymour Johnson in 1989, was assigned to the 335th Fighter Squadron, a unit with a long and decorated history -- over 370 air-to-air kills to its credit.
One of the most unique air-to-air kills credited to the squadron took place Feb. 14, 1991 during Operation Desert Storm. Capts. Richard T. Bennett, pilot, and. Daniel B. Bakke, weapon systems operator, scored the first and only air-to-air kill for an F-15E Strike Eagle.
A Special Forces team made an urgent call to an E-3 Sentry requesting assistance with three Iraqi Mi-24 Hind helicopter gunships in the area. The AWACS contacted Captains Bennett and Bakke who were already airborne leading a flight of F-15Es during a Scud combat air patrol mission.
Captain Bennett brought "487" up to full military power--top speed without the use of afterburners. After breaking through the weather, the crew had to deal with Iraqi anti-aircraft artillery batteries. The crew picked up the three Mi-24 Hind helicopters on their target pod and observed that the Hinds were offloading troops at different points in an attempt to surround the Special Forces team.
The Strike Eagle crew decided to take out the lead helicopter with a GBU-10 while the helicopter was on the ground. If the Hind should take back off, the bomb would at least affect the troops in the immediate area. The crew pickled off the GBU-10 just as the helicopter picked up into a hover. The weapon systems officer kept lasing the target even though their radar showed the helicopter at 100 knots and gaining altitude.
Captain Bennett felt they had missed the target and began to ready an AIM-9 Sidewinder for a second shot. The crew then observed a flash of light; the explosion nearly vaporized the Iraqi helicopter gunship.
The Special Forces team estimated that the helicopter was at least 245 meters off the ground when it disintegrated in mid air. The other Mi-24 gunships bugged out, giving the Special Forces team a chance to move back to a secure location to be extracted.
Today, "487"is still assigned to the same squadron it made history with in 1991. It's the Chiefs' flagship and still has a small green star adorned on the aircraft's port side representing that moment in the squadron's history. Alongside the prominent green star are current mission markings symbolizing strafing and air strikes flown against Anti-Afghanistan Forces.
Pilots and weapon system officers from the Chiefs are continuing to make history with the squadron's F-15E Strike Eagles, to include "487," fighting terror and building peace throughout Afghanistan.