Friday, August 26, 2011

SJAFB evacuates jets as Irene approaches

An F-15E Strike Eagle takes off as part of an evacuation from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C., Aug. 25, 2011, in preparation for Hurricane Irene. By the time the eye of the hurricane reaches North Carolina’s Outer Banks, it will be a Category 3 storm with sustained winds between 111 and 130 mph and a nine-to-12-foot storm surge. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Rae Perry)

By Airman 1st Class Mariah Tolbert, 4th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

SEYMOUR JOHNSON AIR FORCE BASE, N.C. (AFNS) -- As Hurricane Irene approaches, the 4th Fighter Wing and 916th Air Refueling Wing began evacuating approximately 60 F-15E Strike Eagles and eight KC-135R Stratotankers to Barksdale Air Force Base, La., Aug. 25.

In addition to the aircraft sent to Barksdale, the base also sent approximately 350 aircrew and maintainers who are expected to return early next week.

"Officially, this is a hurricane evacuation," said Lt. Col. David Moeller, the 335th Fighter Squadron commander. "The intent is to take the F-15Es and KC-135Rs and get them out of harm's way. Each (F-15E) jet costs approximately $54 million; there is (more than) $5 billion worth of assets here at Seymour Johnson, so this is an attempt to mitigate the risk."

The base's biggest concern is the base personnel and aircraft resources, said Capt. Ryan Rickert, the 4th Operation Support Squadron weather flight commander. Moving the aircraft is important because, with a limited number of hangars, aircraft sitting out on the airfield are exposed to the elements.

"The biggest threat to us would be the winds," Rickert said. "With the conditions being dry lately, the precipitation could impact the county and the base, but we're not seeing the rain fall to be a big deal."

Based on the forecast track, Seymour Johnson AFB is expected to see wind gusts of more than 35 knots, which is approximately 45 miles per hour or more, Rickert said.

"Seymour Johnson is the largest F-15E base in the Air Force," Moeller said. "As such, it has a mission to not only train the young fighter pilots and weapons system officers, but also to maintain combat capability to deploy jets to Iraq and Afghanistan. By moving these jets away from Hurricane Irene's path, we ensure they will be available for the training as well as the operational missions."