This diary first appeared on my blog, Paul's Thing, in 2008. I've since abandoned the search for an on-line F-15 community, but I thought readers of my Air-Minded diaries on dKos might enjoy this.—Paul
I invited a few F-15 buddies to join me on Facebook, where I started a by-invitation group for current and former military aviators.
For the past year or two I've been looking for other F-15 pilots on the net. Just did another quick sweep and as far as I can determine you can count us all on the fingers of one hand. Although the F-16 bubbas have one, there's no F-15 pilots' forum. No message boards, no blogs, no nuthin'. This surprises me, because all through my Eagle-driving days, from 1978 to 1995, my friends and I always chased after the latest and greatest electronic goodies, and when personal computers, e-mail, and the internet came into use, we enthusiastically joined in. So where'd we all go?
And what about the new guys and girls? The Eagle is still very much on active duty, with new pilots being assigned to it every day. If those new pilots aren't on Facebook, I'll be very surprised. I'm hoping some current F-15 pilots find my group, and as noted I'm chumming the waters for former F-15 pilots as well.
Why make the group invitational, you ask? Because there are a lot of, uh, fans of the Eagle out there, and more than a few web sites purporting to represent various F-15 flying units. Some are legit, but many are fronts for patch collectors.
Patch collectors. I remember being quite flattered the first time someone asked me for a patch. I was a new Eagle driver with the 32nd Tactical Fighter Squadron in the Netherlands, and one day this Dutch teenager knocked on my door in Hoevelaken and told me he was my greatest fan. I had no idea how he found me, but figured some of my neighbors must have spread the word. The agreeable young man eventually got around to asking me for a 32nd TFS patch. I gave him one. I soon learned he was not a fan but an entrepreneur who sold military memorabilia. I imagine today's patch "collectors," what with eBay and all, are busier than ever.
While I'm reminiscing I should mention plane spotters. The taxiways at Soesterberg Air Base, our operating location in the Netherlands, were generally screened from public view by trees and vegetation, but there were a couple of locations where civilians could stand outside the fence and see us clearly as we taxied to and from the runway. Every day, no matter how bad the weather, you'd see five or six young men pointing the telephoto lenses of their cameras through the chain link.
The photographers were plane-spotters, part of an active Europe-wide network. Dutch plane-spotters would note the tail number of every F-15 taking off and landing at Soesterberg during the day. If, on any given day, six jets left and didn't come back, they'd put out the word. If, later that day, an Italian plane-spotter saw six strange F-15s landing at Decimomannu Air Base on Sardinia, he'd put out the word. Within hours every plane-spotter in Europe would know that six Soesterberg F-15s had deployed to Decimommanu.
It was, of course, more than a hobby: the network was exploited by the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies. Mind you, American and NATO military attachés in Eastern Bloc nations were busy doing the same thing ... but without the help of an extensive network of amateur Iron Curtain plane-spotters.
In spite of the constant military emphasis on operational security, I don't think NATO or the USAF minded this sharing of information one bit. This was occuring in the years leading up to the end of the Cold War, a time when the military forces of the USSR and the Warsaw Pact were struggling pay their bills. Soviet fighter pilots were averaging around 100 hours a year; I logged over 1,000 hours in my three years at Soesterberg. It must have been awfully disheartening for them to track our flying hours and training deployments and realize how poorly trained their pilots were in comparison.
Some day I'll tell you about our resident spy at Soesterberg, so stay tuned!