Former USAF F-15 pilot explains why a gun-only Eagle would win an aerial engagement against a fully armed Su-27 Flanker

Former USAF F-15 pilot explains why a gun-only Eagle would win an aerial engagement against a fully armed Su-27 Flanker

By Dario Leone
Dec 4 2021
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‘The F-15 pilot has a tough problem to solve, but the Eagle is NEVER doomed,’ Marcus Cade, former USAF F-15 Eagle pilot.

The F-15 Eagle is an all-weather, extremely maneuverable, tactical fighter designed to permit the Air Force to gain and maintain air supremacy over the battlefield.

The Eagle’s air superiority is achieved through a mixture of unprecedented maneuverability and acceleration, range, weapons and avionics. It can penetrate enemy defense and outperform and outfight any current enemy aircraft. The F-15 has electronic systems and weaponry to detect, acquire, track and attack enemy aircraft while operating in friendly or enemy-controlled airspace. The weapons and flight control systems are designed so one person can safely and effectively perform air-to-air combat.

The F-15’s superior maneuverability and acceleration are achieved through high engine thrust-to-weight ratio and low wing-loading. Low wing-loading (the ratio of aircraft weight to its wing area) is a vital factor in maneuverability and, combined with the high thrust-to-weight ratio, enables the aircraft to turn tightly without losing airspeed.

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How would a gun-only F-15C Eagle cope against a fully armed Sukhoi Su-27 Flanker?

‘I’m going to assume the F-15C is gun-only and the [Su-27] Flanker has a combat load-out, perhaps minus a couple missiles he expended BVR. Also, assuming the F-15 has internal and expendable countermeasures onboard, both electronic and IR (perhaps BOL-IR and MJU-10),’ Marcus Cade, former F-15 Eagle pilot with the US Air Force (USAF), explains on Quora.

‘The F-15 is in a tough spot, no doubt, and he can’t separate against a Flanker. His only option is to fight until he kills the Flanker or a wingman shows up and saves the day.

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‘Step 1 – see that yellow button with the black stripes I’ve circled? It reads “Emer Jett.” The Eagle Driver hits that button. If he’s out of missiles, the pylons and launchers under the wings are just weighing him down and creating drag. The Emer Jett button will blow every cart on the airplane, leaving the mighty-mighty Eagle a lean, clean, gun-killing machine. The Flanker won’t know what hit him: first, he’ll see sh*t falling off the Eagle and wonder if there’s combat damage or an ejection about to happen. Then, as the Eagle driver defends against IR missiles and min-ranges radar missiles, the Flanker will realize he’s losing the fight. “How is this possible?” he asks himself as he trades in all his smash to pull the Eagle in front of his 3/9 as he attempts one last Archer that the Eagle flares off. And now he’s jinking in front of the best air-to-air gun platform ever fielded, flown by a single-mission pilot who is a PhD at finishing this particular fight. As the 20mm HEI rounds start pounding thru his speed-brake and wreaking carnage inside his jet, it’s up to him. Does he bow to the inevitable and eject, or does he stick it out until the Eagle-driver walks the pipper up to the canopy and watches the RATR pop up just as the plexiglass shatters and the Flanker-driver’s last sight is his heart being blown out of his chest and splattering across the instrument panel (I borrowed that particular visual).

‘So, no. He has a tough problem to solve, but the F-15 is NEVER doomed.’

He continues;

36th TFW F-15C Print
This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. F-15C Eagle 36th TFW, 22d TFS, BT/79-051 / 1981

‘I’ve flown this profile many times. While I was at Langley, each squadron would keep a couple jets “demo clean” to support the demo team during airshow season. The clean jets would be assigned to Red air, since they didn’t have a captive AIM-9 to allow full-up blue-air training. They also had a fuel disadvantage of 4–8K pounds. So, we’d fly the card and give blue-air the training they needed … and be lethal as F if we got in amongst them. More often, we’d die like we were meant to and Blue air would bingo out and RTB. Then we’d BFM or ACM amongst ourselves, to get some training with any fuel we had left. Trust me, a clean Eagle is enormously more maneuverable than a 1- or 2-bag Eagle, and surprisingly more maneuverable than a jet w/ no external tanks, but pylons and missiles on board. It’s a hot knife thru butter for the few minutes until fuel runs out. I wouldn’t walk into this no-missile scenario willingly … but the Flanker driver would have only a short window to get his kill before he was looking over his shoulder and hoping his life-insurance was paid up.’

Cade concludes;

‘Don’t mistake confidence for arrogance. Air superiority was my job for quite a while, and I was on the receiving end of the information stream provided by a very well-resourced intelligence community. I understand and respect many threat platforms’ strengths (esp. the Su-27 family), and have been part of a community that worked hard to find and exploit their weaknesses. I have flown the MiG-29, and flown against many modern weapons systems operated by various nations. I’ve seen my team rolled up by MiGs fighting in their own back yard after we made just one or two early mistakes. I’ve debriefed at length (occasionally ad nauseam) to understand why a mission failed, or why we took losses in an otherwise successful mission … and how to do better next time. Arrogant tacticians lose. You can only learn to win by beginning with humility and being open to learning (and re-learning) lessons. The end product of that process may come across as arrogance … but it’s actually a very hard-earned confidence.’

Photo credit: Rob Schleiffert from Holland via Wikipedia and Sukhoi

F-15 model
This model is available from AirModels – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS.

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Dario Leone

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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