Thunder over Suffolk
Tuesday, 14 September 1999 brought the last Boeing F15I Ra'am (Thunder) aircraft (94-0286) to the skies above RAF Lakenheath, en-route to the Israeli Air Force base at Hatzerim. Part of a $2.5 billion order for 25 aircraft, it touched down after a five hour flight from St. Louis. Originally it was expected that the Thunders would transit through at a rate of two per month, but occaisonally four at a time had been scheduled. The original timescale for all deliveries to be complete by the end of 1998 has not been met, the final delivery being some nine months later than first planned.
The F-15I was selected by Israel in 1994, the deal finalised to purchase 25 in November 1995 being signed by the late Prime Minister Itzchak Rabin. First flown on 12 September 1997 and rolled out to the world's press at the McDonnell Douglas St. Louis plant on 6 November, the $84 million Thunder is very similar in specification to the F15E operated by the 48th Fighter Wing at Lakenheath, making the base the most appropriate staging post between the USA and Israel. In transit, the aircraft are officially USAF machines carrying the stars and bars in outline on the fuselage, together with the fiscal year and serial. Designed for long range strike missions, the jets are equipped with the Israeli built SPS-2100 integrated electronic warfare suite and is powered by two Pratt & Whitney F100-PW-229 low bypass turbofan engines, each capable of developing approximately 29,000 lbs of thrust.
According to Boeing, the F-15I is the first U.S. made fighter to include Israeli contractors in its production. The advanced, integrated electronic warfare suite is produced by Elisra, secure radios are made by Elta, and structural subassemblies are manufactured by Israel Aircraft Industries' Lahav Division. Its avionics include the Hughes APG-70 synthetic aperture radar, the Kaiser holographic head-up display system, and an Elbit display and sight helmet (DASH) system. The aircraft is armed with a number of precision weapons systems, including Sparrow and Sidewinder missiles.
Destined for 69 Squadron, the first two F-15Is arrived at Hatzerim in Israel on January 19th, 1998 to re-form the veteran "Ha'patishim" (Hammers) squadron which in the past operated the B-17 and the F-4 Phantom. Israel's minister of defence, Itzchak Mordechai, formally accepted the F-15I on behalf of the people of Israel by placing the Star of David on the aircraft's fuselage. "I wish to extend my heartfelt gratitude to the government of the United States, to the Boeing Company, to all of the American and Israeli employees who laboured to build this aircraft, and of course, to the air crews who will fly it," said Minister Mordechai. "The F-15I will provide a significant contribution to Israel's air deterrence power. I pray this aircraft will bestow upon us the wings of peace and not the ghosts of war," he said.
Training began soon afterwards, the first in-flight refuelling exercise being performed during March 1998.
Specification: McDonnell Douglas