PHOTOS: USAF F-15s Return Home from Middle East With Kill Markings and Nose Art

A few weeks after downing swarms of drones to defend Israel from Iran, the 494th Fighter Squadron is back home at RAF Lakenheath, U.K.—and sporting some intriguing new paint.

Publicly released photos from the Air Force show the F-15E Strike Eagles returning to their home at the 48th Fighter Wing with vivid nose art as well as missile and bomb kill markings alluding to their exploits in the region.

Photos of an F-15E nicknamed “Hellcat” show the aircraft painted with over two dozen bomb markings, suggesting that it dropped a hefty amount of ordinance. The plane was also decorated with nine red missiles, indicating numerous air-to-air engagements. An F-15 named “RAWR” sports more than a dozen missile and bomb markings. Another jet, “El Jefe,” carries multiple bomb markings and one missile marking. “Mullet” carries nine missile markings and numerous bomb markings. The double ace “Dutchman” carries at least 10 missile markings and even more bomb markings. Yet another F-15 has nine missile markings and five bomb markings. Those are just some of the F-15s that recently returned to their home base.

Photos released by the Air Force show the first jets arrived May 8, and a spokesman for Air Forces Central (AFCENT) confirmed on May 10 that the 494th Fighter Squadron had returned to RAF Lakenheath.

Violence in the Middle East flared following Hamas’s attack on Israel on Oct. 7 and Israel’s subsequent military operation against the group in Gaza, stirring unrest throughout the region.

In February, the U.S. conducted airstrikes on targets in Iraq and Syria in response to more than 170 attacks on U.S. troops and recently helped Israel fend off a massive drone and missile attack from Iran.

In April, U.S. Air Force aircraft shot down more than 70 drones Iran launched against Israel on the night of April 13 and the early morning hours of April 14. Those planes included F-15Es from the 494th Fighter Squadron and the 335th Fighter Squadron from Seymour-Johnson Air Force Base, N.C., as well as American F-16s.

“I’m very confident and proud of our joint force and what they were able to do with our allies and partners,” Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. told reporters on April 26.

U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Joseph Campo, 48th Fighter Wing commander, welcomes back the return of the 494th Fighter Squadron at RAF Lakenheath, U.K., May 8, 2024. U.S. Air Force photo by Austin Salazar

The 494th Fighter Squadron first arrived in CENTCOM in October, just days after Hamas’ attack. More F-15Es were rushed to the region on April 12, just a day before Iran’s attack.

“One of the fighter squadrons showed up, like, a day prior, and they were right in the middle of the flight, and that says something to our level of training, our level of capability,” Brown said.

The 335th Fighter Squadron from Seymour-Johnson is now the sole F-15E squadron in the region, deployed to the Middle East along with F-16s and A-10s. The A-10s from the Maryland National Guard’s 104th Fighter Squadron and F-15Es from Seymour-Johnson recently completed a three-week Desert Flag exercise.

“Maintaining multi-capable and ready teams is critical to accomplishing the mission,” AFCENT commander Lt. Gen. Derek C. France said in a May 9 statement reflecting on his first month in command. “I’ve been blown away by the level of dedication in the Airmen at AFCENT. They have been operating beyond my expectations, and I’m extremely proud to be a part of this team.”

U.S. Air Force Capts. Claire and Matthew Eddins, 494th Fighter Generation Squadron pilots, return from deployment at RAF Lakenheath, England, May 8, 2024. F-15E Strike Eagles and their aircrews from the 494th Fighter Squadron, along with supporting units from the 48th Fighter Wing, returned from a seven-month deployment to an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia. U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Renee Nicole S.N. Finona