Lt. Col. Travis Willis, an F-15E weapon systems officer deployed to Bagram AB, Afghanistan, has surpassed 1,000 combat flying hours and 335 combat missions. Willis flew his first combat sortie as a first lieutenant during Operation Desert Storm in Iraq in 1991. In Afghanistan, Willis said his achievement is a combination of training and maintenance. “It takes about 2.5 years to train an F-15E pilot or WSO to be combat ready,” explained Willis, adding, “We have folks o the deployment who just completed their training and are mission ready.” He went on to credit the squadrons at Seymour Johnson AFB, N.C., where airmen learn to fly the F-15E Strike Eagle and employ it in combat. And, he said, “Even though our jets are starting to get a little long in the tooth, you know they are the best maintained aircraft in the world. The crew chiefs, back shops, and weapons loaders are all top-notch.” Speaking of the Seymour Johnson F-15Es, there is one, #89-0487, currently deployed to Bagram is the first Strike Eagle in the Air Force inventory to have an air-to-air kill to its credit. USAF flew 487 in Desert Storm, during which on Feb. 14, 1991, Capt. Richard Bennett, pilot, and Capt. Daniel Bakke, WSO, took out the lead of three Mi-24 helicopters attempting to unload Iraqi forces to surround a coalition Special Forces team, sending the remaining two packing. (Bagram milestone report by SrA. Daniel Delgado; Bagram 487 report by James D’Angina)
The F-35 Joint Program Office has officially announced plans to issue multiple sole-source contracts to Pratt & Whitney to upgrade the fighter’s F135 engine—a widely expected move after Pentagon officials indicated they would do so earlier this year instead of developing an entirely new engine.