F-15E Strike Eagles Return From Middle East Deployment With AIM-9X Kill Markings And Nose Art

F-15E markings
The six F-15E that arrived at RAF Lakenheath on May 8, 2024 (All images: Stewart Jack/The Aviationist)

The first six F-15E Strike Eagles of the 494th Fighter Squadron sport some really interesting markings earned shooting down Iranian drones.

The first six of a dozen F-15E Strike Eagle aircraft with the 494th Fighter Squadron “Mighty Black Panthers” of the 48th Fighter Wing, have returned to RAF Lakenheath, UK, from their deployment to the CENTCOM area of operations. The aircraft, flying as TABOR 71-76, and supported by Blue21 (KC-135 #58-0103), Blue22 (KC-135 #58-0094) and Blue23 (KC-135 #62-3509), landed at their home base at around 13:00LT on May 8, 2024.

The Strike Eagles had been deployed as part of the 494th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, to bolster the U.S. posture in the area amid the Gaza crisis in October 2023.

The aircraft were based at Muwaffaq Salti/Al-Azraq Air Base in Jordan, one of the usual deployment locations for US aircraft in the area.

Along with Israeli and other U.S. and allied aircraft, from there, the F-15Es contributed to the air defense of Israel in the night between Apr. 13 and 14, 2024, when 170 one-way “kamikaze” drones, 120 Medium-Range Ballistic Missiles, and 30 Land-Attack Cruise Missiles were fired towards Israel during an unprecedented attack launched by Iran alongside Houthi terrorist group in Yemen as well as Iranian-backed proxies in Iraq.

During that night, the F-15E Strike Eagles from the 494th Fighter Squadron, and the 335th Fighter Squadron, from Seymour Johnson AFB, North Carolina (also deployed in the CENTCOM AOR), achieved a combined “kill score” of 70 Iranian drones.

President Biden praised the Strike Eagle aircrews “for their exceptional airmanship and skill in defending Israel from an unprecedented aerial attack by Iran. These brave servicemembers make us all proud”, he said.

As we explained back then, images of the F-15Es deployed to the CENTCOM area of operations usually showed the Strike Eagles carrying two AIM-120 AMRAAMs (Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missiles) and two AIM-9X Sidewinder AAMs (Air-to-Air Missiles) along with a Sniper ATP (Advanced Targeting Pod) and various JDAMs (Joint Direct Attack Munitions). However, as happened with the F/A-18E/F Super Hornets aboard USS Eisenhower in the Red Sea, the anti-drone mission may have seen the aircraft launching with a different/specific loadout considering the need to counter a significant amount of incoming UAVs.

What’s certain is that the 494th FS fired plenty of AIM-9X, as the photos, taken yesterday at RAF Lakenheath by our contributor Stewart Jack show. Indeed, many of the F-15Es, have been adorned with nose art (a tradition for deployed aircraft) along with red-colored Sidewinder (and other bomb) markings, suggesting each of the silhouettes of the AIM-9 missile represents at least one missile fired in combat.

“Hellcat” sporting nine AIM-9X markings, among the others.
One very large Sidewinder silhouette for “Strafe”
Nine AIM-9X for “Bomb Truck”
No red markings for “El Diablo”
“El Jefe” with one AIM-9X mark
“Rawr” sports several AIM-9X silhouettes along with a larger red kill mark (possibly a radar or launcher?)

Here’s the complete list of nose arts:

LN AF 96-0201 F15E 48th FW Wing Boss Bird – Hellcat
LN AF 96-0204 F15E – Clawing Kitty/RAWR
LNAF 91-0310 F15E – Strafe
LN AF 91-0324 F15E – EL Jefe
LN AF 00-3000 F15E – Bomb Truck
LN AF 91-0604 – El Diablo

The remaining F-15Es should arrive later this week.


About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.