McDonnell Douglas, the manufacturer of the F-15 Eagle, knew it had a winner on its hands with the plane. It was the first U.S. fighter with greater engine thrust than weight, allowing it to accelerate vertically like a rocket. And it was highly maneuverable, so it could out fly its likely adversary in the Foxbat and other MiG jets.
F 15 Streak Eagle Record Flights
But McDonnell Douglas and the U.S. Air Force wanted to prove that the F-15 was superior to anything Russia had before pilots clashed in actual combat. After all, if your enemy knows their likely to lose in a real battle, they’ll hopefully just stay home.
So they took a pre-production version of the F-15 and stripped everything unnecessary off of it, to include the bulk of its paint. It had an Air Force graphic on the fuselage, but the standard gray, anti-corrosion paint was removed to save even that little bit of weight. Their goal was to set all of the major time-to-climb records for planes.
If time-to-climb sounds like a niche record to compete on, it’s actually super important to air combat. Speed, max altitude, and acceleration are all important as well. But speed in a climb determines which plane in a dogfight is likely to get above the other while they’re maneuvering. And altitude equates to extra energy and speed in a fight, because the higher pilot works with gravity instead of against it while attacking.
And so, in just two weeks in late January to February 1975, Air Force pilots took the “Streak Eagle” on a series of flights where they broke eight world time-to-climb records. Five of the records had been held by another McDonnell Douglas aircraft, the F-4 Phantom. But three of them had been held by the Russian MiG-25 Foxbat until the Eagle came calling for them.
The first record was shattered on Jan. 16, 1975. Maj. Robert Smith took off from North Dakota in freezing weather. Smith conducted a 5G pull-up and rocketed up past 3,000 meters, over 9,840 feet. He hit his mark in 27.57 seconds, shattering the old 34.5 record.
That afternoon, another major broke the 6,000-meter, 9,000-meter, and 12,000-meter records. Another pilot destroyed the 15,000-meter record by 37.5 seconds, breaching the altitude in just 77.05 seconds.
And yes, all three pilots were flying the same Streak Eagle. They went on to beat the Foxbat’s records for 20,000 meters, 25,000 meters, and 30,000 meters in the following two weeks. The 30,000-meter record was beaten in just under 3.5 minutes. That 30,000 meters number equates to 98,425 feet, and the pilot coasted to 103,000 feet before beginning his descent.
The Streak Eagle used in all of these record-setting flights is now in the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force.