Jun 9, 2022
F-15s Fly Over Burning Oil Fields in Kuwait during Operation Desert Storm
On the night of 17 January 1991, the best of the U.S. Air Force's fighter aircraft crossed the Kuwaiti border in order to take part in Operation Desert Storm. Among these aircraft were the F-16A Fighting Falcon, F-15C Eagle, and F-15E Strike Eagle fighter aircraft. Flying in formation, they were tasked with entering the skies over burning oil fields in Kuwait to support ground forces.
More than 1,000 military aircraft were deployed to the Gulf War. An estimated 80 percent of these were used in the air campaign, while the remaining 20 percent provided air support to ground units. The air campaign’s mission was to clear the skies of enemy forces and to support the ground brigade attacks. The U.S. and coalition forces maintained air superiority throughout the campaign and never faced aerial opposition from the Iraqi forces.
737 oil wells were set on fire by retreating Iraqi forces in Kuwait. This blanketed much of the region in smoke that reached as high as 20,000 feet. Flying through this hazardous environment, the U.S. aircraft were on an incredibly important mission. Not only were they facing the challenges of managing a high smoke environment, but they were also tasked with flying low, as close to the ground as they could, in order to achieve the objectives of their mission.
The F-16A was arguably the best fighter aircraft of its time, with its lightweight design, incredibly maneuverability and incredible speed. Its ability to stay in the air for extended periods of time and its then state of the art weapons systems made it a formidable foe.
The F-15C Eagle was the most advanced tactical fighter ever to reach operational status during Desert Storm. It had superior speed and maneuverability compared to the F-16A and could stay in the air longer, allowing it to provide valuable support to ground forces.
This famous photograph of all three of the aircraft flying over the burning oil fields as Saddam’s Iraqi Army retreated back across the border into Iraq, was snapped by a US Air Force photographer in the first days of the war, in 1991. It serves as a symbol for the power of the United States and the precision of American military forces.
These aircraft were instrumental in helping to bring an end to the conflict, and their presence in the skies of Kuwait is an indisputable reminder of the skill and dedication of the US Air Force as well as the courage of the men and women who flew these aircraft.