By Senior Airman Christopher S. Sparks, 48th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
ROYAL AIR FORCE LAKENHEATH, England — One of the more popular aircraft assigned the 48th Fighter Wing is “The King” F-15C Eagle, the last remaining heritage jet at RAF Lakenheath. The aircraft were painted to honor the 48th Fighter-Bomber Group, which flew World War II P-47 Thunderbolts, in support of operations in Europe, including the Invasion of Normandy June 6, 1944.
The aircraft is named in honor of Lt. Col. Royal ‘King’ Baker, a former commander of the 493rd Fighter Squadron in 1943, because of his decorated U.S. Air Force career. He was awarded the Silver Star for gallantry in action and was also twice awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. By the end of his second European tour of duty, he had flown a total of 523 hours on 272 combat missions.
For U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Mark Perry, 493rd FS director of operations, the 48th FW Heritage jet holds a special place in his heart. As a young Lieutenant assigned to the Liberty Wing in 2009, that very same F-15C Eagle was designated to him as his first aircraft.
“It was my first jet,” Perry said. “Nothing takes the place of the first jet you have had your name on. It has a special meaning.”
Since then, Perry’s U.S. Air Force career moved him to various locations around the globe before bringing him back to the 493rd FS. Now he has the responsibility to ‘pass the torch’ to another young pilot, a significant moment he recognizes.
“It’s one of my jobs now to assign pilots to their aircraft,” Perry said. “When it came to assigning that jet, I paused for a second because I still feel like it’s my jet.”
After careful consideration, Capt. Gavin O’Boyle, 493rd FS chief of weapons, was selected by Perry as the aircraft’s new pilot.
“It’s iconic with the Reapers,” O’Boyle said. “When I found out it was formerly Lt. Col. Perry’s, it was a great feeling knowing I was taking over that jet. It’s pretty awesome.”
Perry recognizes the popularity of his former jet and fosters a feeling of pride knowing that ‘his’ jet is favored among pilots and the surrounding community.
“It’s kind of cool to see pictures of the aircraft over the years,” Perry said. “Especially after it was painted as the heritage jet. Now it has its own Facebook Page, patches and even posters.”
It’s not very often that pilots are given the opportunity to come full circle and assign their aircraft to the next generation of pilots that will build on the legacy left from those who’ve flown before them. As the new pilot for the 48th FW heritage jet, O’Boyle is not lost on the heritage and legacy behind his new aircraft.
“It’s the last heritage jet of the three squadrons here at the wing,” O’Boyle said. “When you get to fly it, it’s awesome to see the jet’s paint job and recognize the lineage behind it.”