Allied Air Patrols Secure, Reassure Baltic States

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U.S. Air Force pilots and aircraft maintainers with the 493rd Expeditionary Fighter Squadron hold a high standard of readiness and a constant vigil at Siauliai (Lithuania), ready to police the sovereign airspace of the Baltic nations at a moment’s notice. 

To perform this NATO air defense mission, the aircrews are expected to be in the air within minutes after lights and sirens indicate a threat is imminent; leaving the pilots and maintainers of the 493rd EFS little room for error. 

“The pilot-crew chief relationship is extremely important,” said Capt. Andrew Carlson, 493rd EFS pilot. “There’s no voice communication (for a launch here), only signals.” He explained once he receives the “go-ahead” signal from the crew chief, he knows his jet is ready to launch. 

Maintainers and aircrew are on 24-hour standby, awaiting an alert. Once the signal is given, separate crews, consisting of a pilot and three crew chiefs, sprint out to the jets and prepare to launch. The F-15 Eagles are normally in the air within 5 to 10 minutes. 

“Once we show up for duty, after the mission brief, we head out to the jets and make sure they’re set up the way we like,” Captain Carlson said. “When the jets are in alert status, our helmets are already in the jets and connected.” 

He said the pilots configure their flight gear, including G-suit and harness, to make sure they can make the quick response requirements. 

“We have the stuff hanging right outside our door,” said Capt. Carlson. “It only takes about a minute to get all of our gear on.” 

If weather permits, the Airmen here do practice daily, allowing them to sharpen their quick response skills. 

During these exercises, they practice mock scrambles and one-on-one intercepts. They learn tactics and communication tools to intercept any bogey, whether a friendly aircraft or a high-jacked commercial plane, in the airspace over Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

T.K. Larson

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