Jet Fighter School

Air Combat Simulator Tactics and Maneuvers
by Richard G. Sheffield


Development of the F-15


Before a prospective jet fighter pilot steps into an aircraft, he or she has already spent hundreds of hours in intensive flight-training ground school.

It's here that the future pilot studies—and studies in great detail—subjects ranging from aircraft mechanics to meteorology.

The next few chapters will give you a brief overview of the topics covered in ground school as they pertain to using the F-15 Strike Eagle simulation:

Development of the F-15

The F-15 design began as a swing-wing air superiority fighter, was altered to its present appearance, and metamorphosed into a two-man dual-role fighter version. Here we trace the history of the F-15.

The process of developing a military aircraft is a long and complicated affair. Often the end product bears little resemblance to the original concept. Such was the case with the F-15.

The F-15 program came out of the Air Force's experience during the early 1960s, when it felt it needed a new fighter plane to replace the aging F-4 Phantom. While the F-4 was one of the most versatile aircraft ever developed, the Air Force believed there was a need for a pure air-combat fighter in the tradition of the P-51 Mustang and the F-86 Sabre.


The FX program (Fighter eXperimental) was the result. The first FX proposals were very heavy (60,000 pounds) and employed the then-fashionable swing-wing design. This being too much like the ill-fated F-111 design, the momentum swung in the other direction, until in 1967 the conceived aircraft was down to 30,000 pounds.

This 30,000-pound aircraft may have been developed had it not been for the Soviet Domodedovo Air Show in July 1967. It was there that the Soviets unveiled their new MiG-25, later designated Foxbat by NATO. The MiG-25 was capable of speeds up to Mach 2.8 and had an operational ceiling of 80,000 feet. It was immediately obvious that the current U.S. aircraft—the F-4 Phantom—was no match for the MiG-25. The FX project was sped up, and bids to develop and build this new jet fighter were received from many aircraft manufacturers. By December 1968 the field had been narrowed to Mc-Donnell Douglas Aircraft Company, Fairchild Hiller, and North American. The project aircraft was then officially designated as the F-15.


The name Eagle, however, wasn't immediately chosen. James McDonnell, “Mr. Mac,” as he was known, preferred names derived from his interest in the occult—names like Phantom, Voodoo, Banshee, and Demon. When he agreed to consider bird names, Eagle was proposed. Since the F-15 was designed to be an all-weather fighter, when someone read in a wildlife book that the eagle was a bird that could hunt in bad weather, the name was adopted.

It was during this period that the possibility of using a modified version of the Navy's F-14 was first proposed. Congress wanted the Air Force and Navy to use the same aircraft; commonality was the latest buzzword. A number of studies, however, drew some conclusions. The F-14 wasn't maneuverable enough and required a two-man crew, something unacceptable to the Air Force. The idea of adapting the F-15 to function as a Navy carrier plane was also scrapped—costs would have increased while performance decreased with the addition of systems to use the Navy's Phoenix long-range missile.

In December, 1969, McDonnell Douglas was named the winner of the F-15 contract. This contract called for 20 aircraft. The program director said the purpose of the program was “to efficiently acquire a fighter capable of gaining and maintaining air superiority through air-to-air combat.”

The designers' philosophy became not a pound for air-to-ground. In other words, they were to build a pure dogfighter.

The design-concept paper for the F-15 stated that the general mission of the aircraft was that of air superiority, broken down into subheadings of escorting strike forces over unfriendly airspace, fighter sweeps ahead of these strike forces, combat air patrol, and tactical intercept/defense of friendly territory.

The most difficult of these missions, and the one most preferred by F-15 pilots, is the escorting or protecting of strike forces over enemy territory. Here exists the threat of antiaircraft artillery and surface-to-air missiles, as well as enemy fighters directed by ground control.

Out the Door

On June 16, 1972, the first F-15 rolled out of the McDonnell Douglas manufacturing plant in St. Louis. On July 27, 1969, the plane made its first flight from Edwards Air Force Base in California.

The initial test program went fairly smoothly, mainly due to the extensive wind-tunnel testing which had been performed.

The main changes made consisted of increasing the size of the airbrake and changing the pressure required to operate the control stick.

Figure 1-1. The F-15 Eagle


Two F-15 Eagles flying in close formation. Note the AIM-9L Sidewinder missiles beneath each aircraft's wings.

The initial weapons proposals also proved to be a problem. The F-15 was to have been fitted with the new GAU-7 25mm cannon which used caseless ammunition—there were no metal shell casings which would have to be stored or ejected. Also, the new AIM-82 infrared missile was to be utilized. Both of these systems had numerous problems. The designers decided that, since they were using a totally new airframe, new engines, and new avionics, they'd do best to stick to tried-and-true weapons systems.

The General Electric M61 20mm gun and the AIM-9L Sidewinder missile were selected because they had been used effectively for years.

F-15 Versus F-4

The final design of the F-15 was a vast improvement over its predecessor, the F-4. Many systems are much easier to maintain and service. The F-15 has 67 quick-access doors, for instance—four times the number on the F-4. And the re-launch turnaround time is 12 minutes—45 percent faster than that of the F-4.

Head-to-Head: The F-15 and F-4

Cockpit instruments3048
Black boxes106294
Flight control devices9 16
Electrical connectors808905
Fuel system connectors97281
Lubrication points202510
Types of fasteners12002800
Drag chute neededNoYes

The safety record of the F-15 is also extraordinary. It is the only fighter to complete its first 5000 hours of flight time without an accident.

The F-15 into Active Service

The first probation F-15 was delivered for active service to Luke Air Force Base on November 14, 1974. Since then, the F-15 has been deployed at United States Air Force (USAF) bases around the world. It also has been sold to Israel, Japan, and Saudi Arabia. Currently, the F-15 is being deployed to select units of the Air National Guard.

The F-15 Strike Eagle

After the development of the F-15 for air combat missions, the USAF still needed a replacement for the aging F-111. The Air Force sought a dual-role fighter (DRF). Ironically, the very characteristics which made the F-15 an excellent fighter would also make it a contender for the DRF program.

Multistage improvement programs began for both the F-15 and F-16 aircraft. Modifying the F-16 to perform this dual role required a new wing design, while F-15 modifications were made more in the area of avionics and airframe strengthening. Based on the cost of the programs, the F-15 was chosen, and on February 24, 1984, the Air Force Chief of Staff approved $1.5 billion to be spent to upgrade 392 F-15s to perform the dual-role fighter mission. The F-15 DRF was designated the Strike Eagle.

Figure 1-2. F-15E Strike Eagle


The F-15E Strike Eagle has a two-man crew, advanced display systems, and the ability to carry a wide range of air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons.

The F-15 Strike Eagle is a two-man aircraft, with many changes to the cockpit. This redesign allowed a new wide field of vision heads-up display, automated navigation, and a series of nondedicated screens which can be used for displaying moving area maps, weapons choices, radar mapping, and FLIR (Forward Looking InfraRed). These screens can be used for targeting weapons and navigation. Software enhancements to the existing radar system allow use of high-resolution radar ground maps and target detection up to 100 nautical miles away.

Figure 1-3. F-15 Strike Eagle Screens


This is a view of the front (top) and rear (bottom) seats of the F-15E Strike Eagle displays and screens. Note that this is a simulator.

This new F-15E Strike Eagle can deliver a payload similar to that of an F-111 and can defend itself in the process—something the F-111 cannot do.

F-15 Streak Eagle

Computer projections at McDonnell Douglas predicted that the F-15 should easily beat many of the current time-to-altitude records. In early 1975, the Streak Eagle program went into operation.

At Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota, a modified F-15 broke all of the existing time-to-altitude records. This F-15 had been stripped of the gun, radar, some avionics, tail hook, one generator, some of the hydraulic system, and flap and speedbrake actuators. Forty pounds of external paint was even removed.

After achieving the 30,000-meter (98,425 feet) record, the F-15 continued up to over 102,000 feet before falling over and starting its descent. This made it the obvious choice for delivering the ASAT antisatellite weapon.

Streak Eagle Records

Times in seconds

AltitudePrevious TimeType of AircraftF-15 TimePercent Improvement
3000m (9843′)34.52F-427.5720
6000m (19685′)48.79F-439.3319
9000m (29528′)61.68F-448.8121
12000m (39370′)77.14F-459.3823
15000m (49212′)114.50F-477.0233
20000m (65617′)169.80MiG25122.9428
25000m (82021′)192.60MiG25161.0216
30000m (98425′)243.86MiG25207.8015

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