A different version of the fighter jet that U.S. Air Force officials grounded late last year because of potential structural flaws made its way safely across the Atlantic from Saudi Arabia to Nellis Air Force Base on Friday.
Four of eight F-15S Strike Eagles from the Saudi air force arrived shortly after 1:30 p.m. on a Nellis runway, while the other four scheduled to participate in a two-week Red Flag air combat training exercise were delayed by winter weather on the East Coast, said Saudi detachment commander Col. Ahmed Aseeri.
"They're on their way from Seymour Johnson," he said, referring to the North Carolina Air Force base where the planes arrived earlier this week.
Aseeri said that because the McDonnell Douglas F-15S Strike Eagle is a newer version of the United States' F-15s that were grounded after one crashed in November, he is confident his aircraft are safe.
"They didn't have any problems," he said. "They're good to go."
Like U.S. F-15E Strike Eagles that have been cleared to fly, the Saudis' F-15S planes don't have cracks in the "longerons," or cockpit support beams.
Last month, 40 percent of the U.S. F-15 fleet was grounded when crash investigators found potential structural flaws in the wreckage of an F-15 flown by a Missouri Air National Guard pilot. The jet crashed Nov. 2 in Missouri, and the pilot, Maj. Stephen Stilwell, managed to eject from the aircraft.
Air Combat Command leader Gen. John Corley has said decisions on returning the 191 grounded F-15 Eagles to flight would be made on a "plane-by-plane" basis. The 191 included 13 of the 25 F-15s assigned to Nellis Air Force Base.
As a result, some of the F-15 aggressor aircraft that play the role of enemy planes in the Red Flag exercise will be replaced with F-16s, base officials said.
Aseeri, whose pilots are the only foreign participants in the Red Flag exercise, which begins today, said he's looking forward to honing their skills. The Royal Saudi Air Force, he said, has about 250 fighter jets, including Tornadoes and F-15S Strike Eagles. Some of them, fresh off the line, participated in a Red Flag exercise in August 2005.
"There's a lot of interaction with the other forces," he said, noting that the goal of this Red Flag will be "basically to raise the standards."
"It's not only about flying the jets, it's knowing each other and interacting with each other," he said.
This Red Flag, which runs through Feb. 15, involves more than 50 aircraft, including B-52 bombers, F-22A Raptors, the Navy's EA-6B Prowler and U.S. Air Force F-15Es.
Base officials said increased aircraft noise can be expected in the vicinity of the base as the aircraft fly missions during the day and night over the 15,000-square-mile Nellis range.
The Saudi air force flew border security missions in the 1991 Persian Gulf War and during the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, Aseeri said.
The Red Flag exercises are important to his pilots, he said, because their performance is evaluated and they learn how to improve and interact with their allies.
Asked what he thinks of Las Vegas, Aseeri said: "It's a crazy town, very crazy town."
Contact reporter Keith Rogers at firstname.lastname@example.org or (702) 383-0308.