Thracian Eagle 2015–1
April 2015 saw the start of the Bulgarian/US exercise Thracian Eagle I. Dino van Doorn, Hans van der Wilt and Bas Stubert report from Graf Ignatievo air base.
Graf Ignatievo Air Base is one of only two fighter bases of the Balgarski Voenno Vazdushni Sily (BVVS – or Bulgarian Air Force) and one of five remaining air bases in the country. Since the Second World War, it has been the home to the HQ and 1st and 2nd Squadron of the 19th FAR, 10th Composite Air Corps, flying with types like the MiG-15, MiG-17, MiG-19 and MiG-21. In 1994 it became the 3rd Fighter Air Base (3.IAB) of the Tactical Air Corps, with the MiG-21Bis. Finally ‘Graf’ was transferred to the Air Defence Corps, which was created in 1996, and after the closure of Ravnetz Air Base in 2000 all MiG-29s were also transferred to the base. There are two squadrons flying at Graf Ignatievo; 1/3 Iztrebitelna Avio Eskadrila, flying the Mig-21Bis and -UM, and 2/3 Iztrebitelna Avio Eskadrila, flying the MiG-29A and -UB.
Graf Ignatievo was host to eight F-15C/D Eagles from the 159th FW, Louisiana Air National Guard, also known as the Bayou Militia, from April 14th – May 5th, 2015.They arrived at Graf Ignatievo Air Base on the 14th and 16th of April, stopping en-route at RAF Lakenheath with five aircraft arriving on the 12th of April and the remainder three aircraft arriving at Lakenheath on the 15th. Due to some technical issues with three of the Louisiana ANG F-15’s; the package was split into two flights.
The 159th FW deployed the following aircraft:
F-15C 78-0496, 78-0536, 80-0029, 81-0036, 81-0041 (marked 159th MXG), 82-0037
F-15D 82-0047, 83-0048
Support for the Atlantic crossing of the F-15 package was provided by KC-10 Extenders, while all ground support was airlifted by several C-17’s. Louisiana Air National Guard Lt. Col. Matt Rippen, 159th Operations Group commander, and around 150 Airman from the 159th FW, augmented by Iowa ANG crash tender crews and other USAF assets were deployed to Graf Ignatievo.