What’s it like to fly F-15s?
“It’s a great job,” says Capt. Tony Bierenkoven, demonstration team commander and pilot for the West Coast F-15 Demonstration Team, which performed at Sun ‘n Fun. “I’ve flown every day this week.”
The team that flew at Sun ‘n Fun is based at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. It is one of two Air Combat Command F-15C demonstration teams. The other is based at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia. During peak airshow season, the teams are on the road almost every week, performing at more than 40 airshows in the United States, Canada, Australia, Mexico, Saudi Arabia and other international locations.
The F-15 Eagle has been the world’s air superiority fighter for 30 years, according to Major Jack Miller, an Air Force public information officer. Renowned as the world’s best air-to-air fighter, the F-15 dominated the skies over Iraq in Desert Storm and Desert Shield. Today, F-15s support homeland defense missions and overseas operations.
Replacing the F-15 is the F-22 Raptor, which made its civilian airshow debut at Sun ‘n Fun. “That is an air supremacy aircraft, with its supercruise ability and stealth,” Miller said.
Bierenkoven, who has 1,000 hours, including 650 in the F-15, hasn’t had a chance to fly the F-22 yet. “I’d love to fly that plane one day,” he says.
The pilot has been with the F-15 team since November. A demo pilot’s tenure is usually rotated every two years, which gives more pilots a chance to participate on the team. After his first assignment in Japan, Bierenkoven was assigned to Eglin AFB, where he got to know last season’s demo pilot. “I heard they were going through the screening process and I threw my name in the hat,” he says.
To be selected as demo pilot, he flew a series of demonstration certification flights before senior Air Force leaders. “They like all the demo pilots to be instructor pilots,” he says, noting that gave him an edge.
“As a demo pilot, my main goal is to safely display the capabilities of the F-15C all across the country and the world,” he says. “Whether it’s having people watch the Eagle demo or talking to people at the show, I try to share that exciting feeling I have when flying the greatest fighter in the world.”
Of course it takes more than a pilot to demonstrate the F-15. The team is made up of 14 members, including seven crew chiefs. “The crew chiefs work harder than I do,” Bierenkoven said.
It takes four to five hours of maintenance and preparation for every hour of flight, notes Master Sgt. Richard Cook. “We tighten up all the screws they loosen up,” he says with a laugh.
Maintaining the 30-year-old airframes is a challenge, Cook admits. “The maneuvers they put on it don’t help,” he adds.
You can see the F-15 team yourself at air shows throughout the year.