F-15E 335 Robert's Ridge

Wall Pilot staff hears some of the most incredible stories from our customers asking us to create the planes they flew during their careers. Before Thanksgiving 2019 Wall Pilot was contacted by a customer wanting to send his brother in Korea a very special Christmas gift. His brother nicknamed “Spliff” flew a very historic mission as a Weapons System Operator or Wizzo in an F-15E Strike Eagle assigned to the 335th Fighter Squadron… The Chiefs. This one mission was historic for several reasons. Flying as TWISTER 52, Spliff and his pilot Panzer’s were called to cover a rescue force trying to save a Navy SEAL team on top of an Afghanistan mountain called Takur Ghar on the early morning of 4 March, 2002. The SEALs and the rescue force were pinned down by a large al-Qaeda force hidden in bunkers on the mountain top. One Navy SEAL, Neil Roberts, was killed after falling off the Army’s 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment MH-47 Chinook helicopter in an aborted landing attempt at 2:45 am. The SEAL team named MAKO 30 returned to rescue SEAL Neil Roberts who was executed by the terrorists and lost Combat Controller Technical Sergeant John Chapman in the attempt. A third Quick Reaction Force of Rangers launched to support MAKO 30, but came under the same fire killing three Rangers before they even got off the MH-47 Chinook helicopter’s rear ramp. This is when TWISTER 51 and 52 were called onto the scene.

F-15E 88-1701 refueling off a KC-10 tanker during operations over Afghanistan.

The F-15E Strike Eagle Spliff and Panzer flew was tail number 88-1701, armed with nine 500-pound laser-guided bombs and 510 rounds of 20 mm ammunition. A Joint Terminal Attack Controller with the rescue team called SLICK 01 asked TWISTER 52 to strafe the mountaintop bunkers with 20 millimeter ammunition where hard core Al Qaeda terrorists hid, warning this pass would be “Danger Close” to the SEAL team position, within 100 meters of they’re location.

What’s unusual about this request is Spliff and Panzer had NEVER shot the 20 mm gun at ground targets in their careers, nor had they ever worked with a ground controller to drop bombs within 100 meters of friendly forces. The Strike Eagle was made for long range attack in bad weather and air-to-air combat. Attempts to include close air support in the Strike Eagle tactics and training was scoffed at by Air Force leadership. The Strike Eagle was not built for close air support. The 20 mm gun is angled up 2.5 degrees to make it more effective in air combat, so pilots must adjust 2.5 degrees down to hit a ground target. The only aircrew in TWISTER flight who’d shot a gun at ground targets and within 100 meters of friendly troops was the pilot of TWISTER 51, a former A-10 Warthog driver!

The Pilot and Wizzo on TWISTER 52 came down so close during their first gun pass the Ranger rescue team could see the two in the cockpit flashing by. Finishing their mission when they ran out of bombs and bullets, TWISTER 52 had no idea if they had any effect on the enemy, a frustrating ride home. Spliff told me he and his pilot did not say a word to each other for over an hour. But their bullets had killed a majority of the al-Qaeda fighters on the mountain top and saved the SEAL team.

The Ranger rescue team and the SEALs remained on top of the mountain for 17 hours before Army Special Forces helicopters removed them at 8 pm that night.

Noseart ANACONDA SQUEEZE PLAY on the nose of F-15E 88-1701.

Two years later, tail number 88-1701 was back in the states flying a late afternoon low-level training mission near Callaway Virginia. Traveling at 500 miles an hour 700 feet above the ground is very thrilling and there’s two things which will kill you. The first is obviously running into the ground. The second is experiencing a bird strike. On this 6 May 2004 afternoon, tail number 88-1701, nicknamed Anaconda Squeeze Play, had a fully mature Black Vulture go straight down the right engine intake. Causing the engine to come apart, the airplane caught fire. As the pilot climbed for altitude, the hydraulic system bled out and  control of the aircraft was lost. Both the Pilot and WSO ejected and lived, but tail number 88-1701 crashed into the ground and disintegrated.

F-15E 88-1701 ANACONDA SQUEEZE PLAY refueling from a KC-10 over Afghanistan on 4 March 2002. TWISTER 52 refueled seven times on this mission.

Wall Pilot enjoys creating graphics of famous airplanes involved in famous battles like Spliff and Panzer’s F-15E 88-1701. During the Battle of Roberts Ridge on the 4 March 2002, Navy SEAL Britt Slabinski the leader of MAKO 30 and Air Force Combat Controller Technical Sergeant John Chapman we’re both awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, Sergeant Chapman posthumously as he died on top of the mountain. Six Air Force aircrewmen flying in two Strike Eagles and two F-16 Fighting Falcons were awarded the Silver Star for gallantry during the battle, the third highest award for valor in battle. Wall Pilot was able to create for the Wizzo of TWISTER 52 a very special graphic of an airplane that no longer exists. This is why our motto is “Preserving history, one aircraft at a time”.

Leave a Reply