There’s an old military adage: the enemy gets a vote. No matter how well-planned an operation, or how well-designed a weapon, something can always go wrong. With this in mind, it’s pretty rare for any weapon system to have a perfect combat record, be it aircraft, tanks, or any other kind of military hardware.
But there were, until the Russian invasion of Ukraine, three aircraft that had a spotless combat record, despite seeing intense fighting over their long lifetimes. We’ve included the third one here because it’s a good reminder that, despite records of past performance, the enemy’s vote is critical to the outcome – and you never know how a flawless record might end.
Here are 3 planes that have never been shot down in air-to-air combat
1. The McDonnell-Douglas F-15 Eagle
There’s a reason there are so many variants of the F-15. It’s one of the best (if not the best) American fighter aircraft ever made and used by the U.S. military. Airplane gearheads can geek out about all the modern fifth-generation fighter bells and whistles they want, but a good fighter is a good fighter in the hands of the right pilot, and the F-15 is here to prove it.
A perfect combination of speed, acceleration, range, maneuverability and electronic warfare avionics, the F-15 can carry 23,000 pounds of weapons to anywhere it needs to drop them, then fight its way home if need be. The F-15’s combat record is at least 104-0, far outclassing the F-16, F-14 Tomcat, and even the fast, stealthy F-22 Raptor.
The only reason that the F-15 has ever been brought down at all is mostly due to human error in accidents, ground incidents, and other situations that have nothing to do with air combat. America can rest easy now that this 50-year-old monster is being given new life in the form of the F-15EX.
2. British Aerospace Sea Harrier
What could be cooler or more futuristic than a vertical takeoff fighter? Watching British Aerospace Sea Harriers perform this kind of takeoff in 1980 must have made onlookers feel like they were actually living in the future. It was a good thing the British got them into service so quickly because a few years later, they would need the help.
When Argentina invaded the British Falkland Islands in 1982, it was the Sea Harriers that led the defense of the British task force assigned to take the islands back. Sea Harriers also conducted air-to-ground strikes in support of the counterattacks. With a total of 28 deployed to the Falklands War, they shot down 20 Argentinian aircraft in air-to-air combat with a whopping zero losses, racking up 28% of Argentina’s aircraft losses.
Although the Sea Harriers weren’t as fast as some Argentine jet fighters, they were more maneuverable and carried the latest in radar tracking and missile weaponry. As a result, they were devastating in dogfights, even in the adverse weather of the region.
3. Sukhoi Su-27
Oh how the mighty have fallen. The Su-27, designated “Flanker” by NATO, was designed to take down the venerable F-16 Fighting Falcon and the aforementioned F-15 Eagle. The U.S. Air Force even called for a new stealth aircraft to answer the threat posed by the Su-27 and future generations of it, what would eventually become the F-22. That threat was very real until the Russian invasion of Ukraine when Su-27s flying over the Ukrainian city of Zhytomyr got shot down for the first time.
Before Ukraine, Su-27s were last seen in combat fighting against MiG-29 “Fulcrum” fighters in the 1997-98 Eritrean-Ethiopian War. Ethiopian pilots behind the sticks of Su-27s took down four Eritrean MiGs with zero losses in that conflict.
The air combat losses of its Su-27s didn’t deter Ukraine from using them against Russian forces, which they still do today, even against other Su-27s and more advanced fourth-generation fighters like the Su-35.