American fighter jets secure the skies above NATO summit
April 3, 2008
Related story: NATO tries to bridge divide on Afghanistan
U.S. Air Force fighter jets have taken to the Romanian skies this week to secure the airspace above the NATO Summit.
F-15C and E models from RAF Lakenheath, England, and F-16 Fighting Falcons from Aviano Air Base, Italy, have been called in to support NATO’s air policing mission, dubbed Operation Noble Endeavor.
“Our job is to be airborne and be the eyes of the NATO commander,” Lt. Col. Craig Wills, 493rd Expeditionary Fighter Squadron commander, said of his unit’s F-15C Eagle jets deployed to Graf Ignatievo in central Bulargia for the operation.
The Bulgarian airfield is roughly 150 miles southwest of Bucharest, where the summit is being held.
Forty U.S. Air Force aircraft — including the fighter jets — are taking part in the operation, with some 1,400 support, maintenance, operations and medical airmen working in locations across Eastern Europe, according to 3rd Air Force spokesman Maj. Dave Honchul.
While up in the sky, the jets are providing a show of force to repel any unexpected air threats.
“Basically any type of airborne activity that the NATO commander deems as hostile, to include renegade aircraft,” Wills said by phone from Bulgaria on Monday afternoon.
“Anytime you have such a large concentration of world leaders at a time in one place, it is a reasonable measure to provide enhanced security.”
Capt. George Downs, a 493rd pilot, has already flown two missions above the summit area.
“It’s going very smoothly so far,” Downs said of the operation on Tuesday. “Everything is going according to plan.”
The only issue, Downs said, has been a little lack of understanding between host-nation air traffic controllers and American pilots.
“Whenever you bring different countries together there’s always going to be some minor language challenges,” Downs said. “You have to use two or three different ways to get your point across and eventually they’ll understand.”
This isn’t the first time that the squadron has supported high-level meetings. In 2006, squadron jets defended the NATO summit in Riga, Latvia, and then protected President Bush’s visit to Albania in June 2007. The 493rd plans to make the most out of its trip to Bulgaria after the summit. The unit will stay a few extra weeks to train alongside Bulgarian MiG-29 jets, Wills said.