Lakenheath F-15E Pilot Thanks Spotter Who Alerted Him to Engine Malfunction

An F-15 pilot with the 48th Fighter Wing at RAF Lakenheath, United Kingdom, got to meet the civilian plane spotter who potentially saved his life.

In a Facebook post from RAF Lakenheath, 492nd Fighter Squadron pilot Maj. Grant Thompson was seen personally thanking Ian Simpson, a British aviation enthusiast.

Simpson happened to be watching planes take off at the base July 13 when he noted that one F-15E Strike Eagle was seemingly spewing fire and sparks out of its right rear engine, but the pilot seemed unaware.

According to the BBC, Simpson said he called the base’s switch board and was connected with the 48th Fighter Wing field operations group. From there, Thompson was alerted to the issue and was able to land safely without incident, according to the Facebook post.

“​​From our perspective, it was a normal takeoff,” Thompson told the BBC, adding that Simpson’s quick actions “100 percent” saved his life as his wingmen later noted that it appeared to be a nozzle malfunction on his F-15E.

Simpson told the BBC that he knew something was wrong when he continued to see sparks coming from the engine after takeoff, realizing then that they were not an afterburner.

Thompson and Simpson met July 20, with Thompson thanking Simpson and presenting him with several gifts in appreciation, including a trucker hat and his 48th Fighter Wing insignia patch. 

Images from the original incident started making the rounds on social media soon afterward and picked up traction with local and national media outlets. Observers noted that it appeared that one of the F-15’s F100 engines had a damaged exhaust nozzle.

The 48th Fighter Wing is the only F-15 fighter wing in the U.S. Air Forces in Europe command, and Thompson’s 492nd Fighter Squadron won the Raytheon Trophy in 2017.