The dominant U.S. tactical fighter jet since 1972.
Conceived during the Vietnam War (1961-1975) by engineers at McDonnell Douglas, the F-15 Eagle was designed as an air-superiority fighter capable of defeating all types of enemy aircraft at close or long range under any weather conditions. The first F-15A flew in 1972, with a two-seat training version, the F-15B, following one year later. After extensive flight testing, the U.S. Air Force in 1976 took delivery of the first Eagle slated for a combat squadron.
From its beginnings, the F-15 demonstrated its superiority over contemporary fighters, combining high speed with spectacular maneuverability via a high thrust-to-weight ratio and a low wing loading, or ratio of weight to wing area. The F-15 had more power and wing area in relation to its weight than any other fighter in the world, and it performed accordingly.
Equipped with two Pratt & Whitney F100-100 engines capable of 23,930 pounds of thrust each, the F-15 could reach an altitude of 50,000 feet from a stationary start in just 2.5 minutes and could attain a maximum speed of 1,650 miles per hour.
Power and maneuverability were, however, only two of the F-15’s advantages. The F-15 also included a revolutionary heads-up display (HUD), which allowed pilots to monitor critical flight data, such as speed, course, and altitude, without taking their eyes off the sky. It boasted an inertial navigation system that allowed pilots to fly anywhere in the world with unerring accuracy, an advanced computer, and extensive electronic countermeasures for defense against enemy radar and missiles. With its Hughes APG-63 pulse-Doppler radar and a service ceiling of 65,000 feet, the Eagle could fly well above most potential enemies, could detect enemies from a long range at either high or low altitude, and, if necessary, could destroy enemies at minimum risk. Early F-15 models carried four AIM-7 Sparrow and four AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles as well as a 20-millimeter cannon. Later versions were equipped with up to eight AIM-120A advanced-medium-range air-to-air missiles (AMRAAMs) in place of the Sparrows.
In response to an increasing threat from the Soviet Union, the U.S. Air Force decided to improve upon the F-15’s capabilities and field the F-15C and F-15D training models in 1979. These new Eagles carried more internal fuel, as well as exterior conformal fuel tanks, for a greater range of more than 3,400 miles without refueling. An increased maximum takeoff weight of 68,000 pounds allowed F-15 pilots to carry more weapons than ever before.
The seemingly elastic ability of the F-15 to adopt more capabilities led the Air Force to stretch the design even further when, in 1982, it fielded the two-seat F-15E dual-role fighter. Designed for air-to-air and ground-attack missions, the E model featured a larger HUD, a more powerful central computer, a forward-looking infrared (FLIR) camera, and Maverick missiles for use against ground targets at long range. It boasted the Hughes APG-70 radar for use in either ground-attack or air-superiority mode, and automatic terrain-following avionics and could perform long-range missions at night or in bad weather.
These improvements were showcased in 1990 and 1991, when the Air Force deployed F-15C, F-15D, and F-15E models to Saudi Arabia during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. In combat against Iraq, Eagle pilots destroyed thirty-six enemy aircraft in air-to-air engagements without losing a single plane, and F-15E models were used in night attacks on Scud missile sites and against artillery positions with great effect. Since 1991, F-15’s have patrolled the no-fly zone over northern and southern Iraq, escorted cargo planes during Operation Provide Comfort in Turkey, flown combat missions in support of NATO operations in Bosnia and Kosovo, and performed many other assignments around the world.
F-15’s form an important part of the air forces of several countries allied to the United States, including Japan (which uses specially designed F-15DJ and F-15J models), Saudi Arabia, and Israel. They have been flown with distinction in Israeli combat operations against both Syria and Iraq, and will remain an integral component of fighter squadrons around the world until at least the mid-twenty-first century. By then, the 396 Eagles in active service with the U.S. Air Force will have been transferred to Reserve or Air National Guard squadrons, having been replaced by the F-22 Raptor. Raptor pilots will count themselves fortunate if they find themselves in aircraft that prove to be as dominant over the next thirty years as the F-15 has been since 1972.
Foster, Peter R. F-15 Eagle. London: Ian Allen, 1998. A good basic overview of the F-15 and its history, with excellent photographs. Jenkins, Dennis R. McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle. North Branch, Minn.: Specialty Press, 1997. This book is aimed at a general audience, with more emphasis on technical detail. Verlinden, Francois. Lock on No. 22: McDonnell Douglas F-15 Strike Eagle. Lier, Belgium: Verlinden Publications, 1993. The best overall work on the F-15.
Air Force, U.S.