RAF LAKENHEATH, England — F-15 fighter crews are using time created by a service-wide grounding of the jets this week to bone up on their studies and perform maintenance ahead of schedule.

“At this point, our focus is the safety of our aircrews. The 48th Fighter Wing pilots and weapons system officers will continue to ensure their combat readiness through academics and simulators,” RAF Lakenheath Commander Brig. Gen. John Hesterman wrote in an e-mail to Stars and Stripes.

“Additionally, our maintainers continue to perform routine maintenance, ensuring Lakenheath’s F-15s are ready to fly when we receive the order.”

Lakenheath’s F-15 squadrons are the only such units in U.S. Air Forces in Europe.

The Air Force grounded its F-15 fleet on Saturday following the crash Friday of an F-15 from the Missouri Air National Guard.

The pilot was participating in mock dogfighting exercises with another F-15 when the plane experienced difficulty, prompting the pilot to eject.

The pilot did not suffer life-threatening injuries.

Capt. Douglas Kable of the 48th Fighter Wing Operations Group said the F-15 crews will take advantage of the time out of the skies.

“There are many items relative to our flying operations that during normal operations we do not get to study as much,” he wrote in an e-mail to Stars and Stripes.

“We are using this time to improve our knowledge, and keep our brains thinking in a tactical manner.”

The F-15s at Lakenheath normally participate in 60 sorties a day, if all three squadrons are present and flying on a full schedule.

While the F-15 crews were attending to academic matters, maintenance personnel were working in advance.

“We’re trying to get ahead of the game and get our inspections ahead of schedule,” said Staff Sgt. Kerry Pliler, who serves as a maintenance expediter.

Maintenance officials said they are waiting for information from the investigation into last week’s stateside crash to determine if they need to trouble-shoot the F-15s at Lakenheath.

It’s unclear how long the grounding order will remain in effect, but 492nd Fighter Squadron maintenance noncommissioned officer Master Sgt. Mike Seelhoff said the squadron’s maintenance personnel are working with the same sense of urgency as when planes are flying.

“We prep our aircraft to fly every day, regardless,” he said.

“Whether we fly tomorrow, we don’t know.”

Hesterman also said the grounding should not affect a pending NATO evaluation.

“We are ready for the NATO Operations Evaluation and continue working toward the inspection next week,” Hesterman wrote.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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