Low-level cockpit videos shot from inside F-15E Strike Eagles are surprisingly rare considering that the "Mud Hen" was designed to fly low-level interdiction missions, but the two featured below are quite exhilarating.
The F-15E, like its F-111 Aardvark predecessor, can be flown at low-level, in the dead of night, without night vision goggles, and even in horrible weather via the use of terrain following radar. In the F-15E's case this system is housed in one of the two pods that make up the LANTIRN (Low Altitude Navigation & Targeting Infra-Red for Night) system.
The AN/AAQ-13 pod, mounted underneath right side of the Strike Eagle's fuselage, houses a terrain following radar and a fixed forward looking infrared sensor. The pod pipes its FLIR imagery onto the F-15E's wide angle heads up display. Overlaid on this HUD image is a flight director symbol that is produced via calculations made by the pod's terrain following radar and a predetermined minimum altitude. The system cues the pilot as to where exactly to fly in order to constantly stay a certain safe altitude above the terrain that lays in front of the jet. Automatic modes exist as well, where the system flies a number of pre-planned waypoints and uses the terrain following radar's information to stay as low as possible along that route. The other pod, known as the AN/AAQ-14, is mounted under the jet's other intake and carries out electro-optical surveillance and laser targeting duties.
The idea of "nap of the earth" flying is to minimize an aircraft's radar detectability, offering just brief radar returns as the aircraft attempts to stay out of the enemy radar antenna's line of sight. Although the use of the LANTIRN system, and far more basic terrain following radar systems from decades prior, are a proven way to navigate at low-level, trusting avionics alone in an environment where just a split second error can mean the difference between safely vaulting over a canyon rim and impacting that same canyon rim at 600mph, is less than comforting.
Flying at low-level under visual conditions, like the videos shown in this post depict, remains one of the most demanding and fun parts of a fighter pilot's job. The massive sensation of speed, large gravitational force excursions and the reality that a flick of the wrist can mean the difference between life and death has been described by some fighter pilots I know as "highly addictive." But fun and adrenalin are just a byproduct of low-level flying's tactical value. Regardless of if the tactic is executed using terrain following radar or simple visual cues, flying below radar still remains tactically relevant even in an age of stealth technology, advanced jamming and towed decoys.
Pictures via wikipedia/Dual Freq/public domain
Tyler Rogoway is a defense journalist and photographer that maintains the website Foxtrot Alpha for Jalopnik.com You can reach Tyler with story ideas or direct comments regarding this or any other defense topic via the email address Tyler@Jalopnik.com