RAF LAKENHEATH, England — F-15 pilots from the 493rd Fighter Squadron will soon be testing their skills against Spanish air force F-18s during a two-week training mission in the Canary Islands.

On Friday, part of the squadron left for Gando air base on Gran Canaria – part of the Spanish Canary Islands off the northwestern coast of Africa. The American force includes 110 maintainers, 18 pilots and 10 jets.

While pilots typically practice tactical maneuvers against each other, training against dissimilar aircraft is highly desirable, said Lt. Col. Jeff Bakken, the fighter squadron’s director of operations.

“In light of irregular warfare, there’s not a lot of dogfighting going on,” Bakken said. “But we still prepare for all kinds of air battles, and the Spanish trip will help further that.”

Escaping from the often-inclement weather in the U.K. will likely give pilots more flying time. Clear, sunny skies mean the jets carry less fuel — needed in bad weather in case of emergency landings — and can fly longer sorties, said the squadron’s commander, Lt. Col. Mike King, who deployed with the unit.

Still, simulating combat situations with unfamiliar aircraft is the overarching benefit, he said. Between different visual cues and tactics employed by the Spanish fighter jets, aviators are sure to learn a lot, King said.

“We get to exercise some muscle we don’t often get to exercise,” he said. “We have to be ready for any situation that calls for air superiority.”

The 493rd is one of three F-15 squadrons based at Lakenheath. The 493rd flies the C model and the other two units fly the E model, which is capable of both air-to-air and air-to-ground combat and is flown by two pilots. Lighter and more maneuverable, the F-15C is a one-man jet and solely dedicated for air-to-air missions.

The 493rd was among the first U.S. fighter units to train against the notorious Russian MiG-21 fighter in 2007 and is often tasked with NATO and presidential air policing missions around the world. The last time an F-15C was engaged in a real-life dogfight was in Kosovo in 1999 during Operation Allied Force.

“We keep that as a constant reminder,” King said.

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