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The F-15 History

Today on The Daily Aviation website let’s talk about the legendary F-15 Eagle. Built by McDonnell Douglas in the early 1970s, it can reach Mach 2.5 while flying over 65,000 feet and is still considered today as one of the most powerful fighter jets in the world

Since its inception, more than 1,600 units of the F-15 have been built, mainly to equips the US Air Force. And despite more than 40 years of service, it remains one of the most important aircraft of the US military fleet.


The F-15 story start in the 1960s, following the poor F-4’s close air combat performance during the Vietnam War and also following the new Soviet MIG-25 unveiling in 1964. These two events prompted the US Air Force to launch the “F-X” program on September 1968 with the goal to design a new air superiority aircraft that was also able to perform close air combat. 

On December 23, 1969, the McDonnell Douglas company was chosen for the design and production of this future aircraft. Quickly the company’s engineers began to work on this project and decided to integrate the latest aeronautical technologies of the time. On June 26, 1972, the first F-15 prototype left the McDonnell Douglas factory.

This new aircraft had some characteristics of the F-4 Phantom such as large size, 2 air intake on the side and 2 powerful engines.

The F-15’s cockpit was designated to give a perfect visibility to its pilot, especially during close air combat.  And to help the F-15 maneuverability, its engines were supplied with air by two large variable-geometry air intakes which were able to rotate following the F-15’s angle of attack. This ability allowed to provide air to the engines in any situation.

The F-15 prototype flew for the first time on July 27, 1972, and quickly showed excellent performance that proved its superiority over other US aircraft. In fact, it was so effective that the US Air Force hastily put it into service within its Tactical Air Command in 1974, only 2 years after the  F-15  first flight. This marked the beginning of a long military career.

NASA test variant

Some years later, the US Air Force and NASA developed in the 1980s a variant of the F-15 Eagle, to improve its short take-off and landing capabilities, as well as its maneuverability capabilities. First called F-15 STOL then F-15 IFCS, this variant was equipped with a two-dimensional nozzle system that significantly improved the aircraft maneuverability, as well as a canard design, which improved the F-15 ability to fly at low speeds and high angles of attack.

This prototype also helped develop the F-15E Strike Eagle, a derivative version of the F-15 Eagle optimized for ground attack, that entered service within the US Air Force in April 1988.

Destruction and Satellite Launch

Another great use of the F-15 occurred during the Cold War.

At this time, the emergence of enemy spy satellite highlighted the need to be able to destroy these satellites if needed. To this end, the USA developed in the late 1970s the ASAT ASM-135.

This system used the F-15 incredible ability to fly vertically at high altitude, to launch a multi-stage anti-satellite missile. But after only one real shot against the Solwind satellite in 1985, the program was abandoned in 1988, mainly for political reasons.

And always using the same logic, but this time to launch satellites and not destroy them, the DARPA agency launched in 2011 the Airborne Launch Assist Space Access contest, a project abandoned today but which was developed to put a 100lbs payload into low earth orbit using an F-15.

Theoretically, the airborne launcher would have been fired almost vertically by an F-15 at an altitude of about 40,000 feet and was to deliver its payload in low earth orbit some minutes later.



The F-15 is powered by the Pratt & Whitney F-100 turbojets, similar to the one on the F-16. But unlike the F-16 which is equipped with only 1 F-100, the F-15 has 2 of them. Built with an integrated afterburner, these two engines allow the F-15 to take off on a shorter distance but also provide enough power to exceed Mach 2 at high altitude.

And to slow down its speed during flight or during the landing phase, the F-15 is equipped with a large airbrake, located behind the cockpit, that can deploy quickly to create a strong resistance with the air. This immediately slowing down the aircraft.

M61 Vulcan

In terms of armament, the F-15 is equipped since its creation by the famous M61 Vulcan. It is the same gun that equips the Phalanx CIWS (pronounced “sea-wiz”) system used to protect the US Navy’s ships against enemy anti-ship missiles. 

Able to fire several hundred rounds in few seconds and located on the right side of the F-15, this gun is capable of destroying with a few shots a target situated several hundred feet from the aircraft. A formidable firepower that goes perfectly with the F-15 extraordinary capabilities…

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