GEAR & TECH

This is the story behind one of the most successful fighters ever built

During its heyday, the McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle was the pinnacle of U.S. air superiority, incorporating advanced technology and a forward-thinking design that created a highly-maneuverable, multi-role fighter aircraft.


The F-15 was born out of necessity, as the Vietnam War demonstrated the Air Force's need for a new fighter aircraft with the power and agility to overcome any current or projected Soviet threat.

The Air Force needed a solution, and on Dec. 23, 1969, after more than two years of intensive testing and evaluation, selected McDonnell Douglas' F-15 as its next generation fighter. The aircraft went on to become an all-weather, extremely maneuverable, tactical fighter that gained and maintained air supremacy over the battlefield.

F-15C. USAF photo by Master Sgt. Michael Ammons.

Development and Design

The F-15A was christened the "Eagle" in 1972 and flew its maiden flight at Edwards Air Force Base, California. Later that same year, the Air Force approved production of the aircraft.

In 1975, an F-15A known as "Streak Eagle," broke eight time-to-climb world records and reached an altitude of 98,425 feet in 3 minutes, 27.8 seconds. Equipped with two Pratt & Whitney F100 or GE F110 turbofan engines that produced 29,000 pounds of thrust each, the jet was able to reach a top speed of 1,875 mph and was the first US fighter with enough thrust to accelerate vertically. The aircraft's high engine-to-thrust ratio and low wing loading (the ratio of aircraft weight to its wing area) enabled the F-15 to turn tightly without losing airspeed.

The F-15 was not only more maneuverable than its predecessors, but it was also equipped with advanced multi-mission avionics that set it apart from other fighter aircraft. Equipped with an internally-mounted tactical electronic "identification friend or foe" system, an electronic countermeasures set, and a central digital computer, the airframe is able to be upgraded throughout its lifespan with current technology.

"Streak Eagle." Photo courtesy of USAF.

The F-15 can penetrate enemy defenses and outperform and outfight any current enemy aircraft. The F-15 has electronic systems and weaponry to detect, acquire, track, and attack enemy aircraft while operating in friendly- or enemy-controlled airspace. The weapons and flight control systems are designed so the pilot can safely and effectively perform air-to-air combat.

The versatility of the Eagle can be seen through its combination of different air-to-air armaments. The aircraft can be loaded with AIM-120 advanced medium range air-to-air missiles on its lower fuselage corners, AIM-9L/M Sidewinder or AIM-120 missiles on two pylons under the wings, and an internal M-61A1 20mm Gatling gun with 940 rounds of ammunition in the right wing root.

The F-15 has been produced in both single seat and two-seat configurations and as a dual-role air-to-ground variant. The F-15E Strike Eagle, the air-to-ground variant, was developed to meet ever changing Air Force needs and can carry 23,000 pounds of air-to-ground and air-to-air weapons.

F-15E "Strike Eagle." Photo by Staff Sgt. Aaron Allmon.

Features and Deployment

Air Force units that operate variants of the F-15 Eagle include:

  • The 48th Fighter at Langley Air Force Base, Virginia.
  • The 53rd Fighter Squadron at Spangdhalem Air Base, Germany.
  • The 54th Fighter Squadron at Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska.
  • The 65th Fighter Squadron at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada.

15C, -D, and -E models participated in Operation Desert Storm in 1991, where they accounted for 32 of 36 Air Force air-to-air victories and struck Iraqi ground targets. F-15s served in Bosnia in 1994 and downed three Serbian MiG-29 fighters in Operation Allied Force in 1999. They enforced no-fly zones over Iraq in the 1990s. Eagles also hit Afghan targets in Operation Enduring Freedom, and the F-15E version performed air-to-ground missions during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

An F-15 Eagle from the 142nd Fighter Wing takes off from Portland Air National Guard Base in Oregon. USAF photo by Senior Airman John Hughel.

During its time in service, F-15 series has been deployed for air expeditionary force deployments and operations Southern Watch, Provide Comfort, Allied Force, Enduring Freedom, and Iraqi Freedom.

Did you know?

  • The F-15 is undefeated in air-to-air combat with 101 aerial victories and 0 defeats.
  • An F-15 was the first air-to-air fighter requested by the Air Force since the F-86 Sabre.
  • Eagles flown by Israel's air force were the first to face a true adversary in the air. They downed more than 50 Syrian fighters with no losses of their own.
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