On Jul. 27, 1972, the Boeing F-15 flew for the first time with Chief Test Pilot Irv Burrows at the controls. Fifty years later, the undefeated F-15 continues to evolve and add advanced capability to the US Air Force (USAF) fighter fleet.
“Boeing is proud of the F-15’s proven performance and of our shared legacy on this platform with the U.S. Air Force and operators around the world,” said Prat Kumar, vice president of F-15 Programs, in a Boeing news release. “With its unrivaled combat performance, five decades-long production run and continuous evolution, the F-15 has a remarkable history and continues today to be a critical asset for U.S. and allied forces. And with the development of new, advanced capabilities and the evolution of the F-15EX, the best is yet to come.”
Boeing’s F-15 program was initiated at the request of the USAF, which needed a fighter jet designed to maintain the country’s air superiority.
In early 1975, flying out of Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota, an F-15A known as Streak Eagle set many time-to-climb world records. Between Jan. 16 and Feb. 1, 1975, the Streak Eagle broke eight time-to-climb world records. It reached an altitude of 98,425 feet just 3 minutes, 27.8 seconds from brake release at takeoff and coasted to nearly 103,000 feet before descending.
To meet the USAF requirement for air-to-ground missions, the F-15E Strike Eagle was developed. It made its first flight from St. Louis in December 1986. The Strike Eagle can carry 23,000 pounds of air-to-ground and air-to-air weapons and is equipped with an advanced navigation and an infrared targeting system, protecting the Strike Eagle from enemy defenses. This allows the Strike Eagle to fly at a low altitude while maintaining a high-speed, even during bad weather or at night.
The F-15 has been produced in single-seat A model and two-seat B versions. The two-seat F-15E Strike Eagle version is a dual-role fighter that can engage both ground and air targets.
F-15C, -D, and -E models participated in Operation Desert Storm in 1991. F-15s downed 32 of 36 USAF air-to-air victories and struck Iraqi ground targets. F-15s also served in Bosnia in 1994 and downed three Serbian MiG-29 fighters in Operation Allied Force in 1999. They enforced no-fly zones over Iraq in the 1990s. Eagles also hit Afghan targets in Operation Enduring Freedom, and the F-15E version performed air-to-ground missions in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Through its variants, the F-15 has also served that mission internationally with numerous global customers including Japan, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea and Qatar.
The newest F-15, the F-15EX Eagle II, delivers a state-of-the-art electronic warfare system, along with contemporary sensors and avionics. The airframe, known for its unrivaled payload capacity, is capable of carrying next-generation hypersonic weapons.
The F-15’s manufacturing process has also evolved over the years to include digital design and automation and tooling, including revolutionary full-size determinant assembly advanced manufacturing processes.
“Boeing’s modernized manufacturing process improves quality while decreasing time and costs,” said Kumar. “We’ve seen increased global interest in the contemporary F-15 and its next-generation capabilities.”
More than 1,500 F-15s are in service worldwide. The USAF took delivery of its first F-15EX in March 2021.
Photo credit: U.S. Air Force
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