Military Aviation

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

The F-15 Eagle

The F-15 Eagle is an all-weather fighter designed to gain and maintain air supremacy. As the first US fighter with engine thrust greater than its basic weight, the F-15 can accelerate while in a vertical climb. In fact, the Eagle can climb 50,000 feet in less than 60 seconds.

The relatively low aircraft weight, compared to wing area, made the Eagle not just fast, but also highly maneuverable, creating a near perfect platform for air-to-air combat.

F-15 Eagle Vs Su-27 Flanker

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.

‘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.

The F-15 Eagle is NEVER doomed

‘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.’

Gun Only F-15 Eagle Vs fully armed Su-27 Flanker

He continues;

‘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.’

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

F-15 Eagle Vs Su-27: Respecting the Flanker family

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: U.S. Air Force, Rob Schleiffert from Holland via Wikipedia and Sukhoi

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

View Comments

  • Su-27S vs F-15C in simulated dogfight and BVR engagement from 1992 untli 1996 .Gen John Jumper : ''Air Force Chief of Staff has said publicly on many occasions that in head to head combat simulations with USAF pilots flying in Su-27s vs USAF pilots in F-15s, the F-15s will consistently lose.That's why the F/A-22 is now working up to enter service.''

    About those encounters between Su-27 and F-15, it all started when in july of 1992 Russians visited AFB Langley . Two Su-27UB with lead pilot then col Alexander Kharchevsky ( wingman maj Georgy Karabasov later Vladimir Khohanovsky ) , flew from Lipetsk air base across Russia and via Alaska, Canada , US-Canadian border to US eastern coast . This is video from july 1992 made in Grand Forks AFB .

    A. Kharchevsky's story :

    The opinion of General A. Kharchevsky about F-15 Eagle :'The F-15 is a well-controlled machine with excellent unbounded visibility in all directions. When you steer it in different directions, the nose stays where you point it without tendency to bounce. During maneuvering the Eagle retains its controllability up to 25 degrees AOA. The controls are easy and the aircraft responds excellently with less force than is necessary in the Su-27. However the aerodynamics are less perfect than in the Sukhoi: it accelerates more slowly in maneuvers and decelerates more quickly. Nevertheless, in a level-flight "race" the various characteristics of the two aircraft are about equal. Supersonic flight occurs a little sooner in the F-15 than in the Su-27. You can detect it from a slight increase in the cabin noise. The takeoff of the F-15 is slower, than the "Sukhoi" (in a group of four aircraft, consisting of two Su-27UB and two F-15, the Russian jets were using minimum afterburner to maintain formation with the Americans taking off on full afterburner). The minimum speed of the F-15 is 210 km/h. It's significantly higher, than in Su-27 or MiG-29. However the effectiveness of the stabilizator on the runway is maintained down to a speed of 100 km/h. The F-15's turn radius is larger than the Su-27's.'

    In general, in Kharchevsky's opinion, the Eagle has inferior maneuvering characteristics to Su-27 or MiG-29. Other pilots evaluate the Eagle's maneuvering capabilities as more analogous to MiG-23MLD."

    About that first encounter, little is known that USAF pilots in F-15C/D left Russians for a while in US airspace when they got in to problems with engines .The problems on both Su-27UB emerged when they flew in stratosphere and only when they descented to about 3000m thay managed to restart engines . After inspection believe it or not ,the main cause was inappropriate fuel type for two Su-27UB that was refueled in Elmendorf AFB . About this , later gen A.Kharchevsky told some details ... He was so angry about provocation by the USAF pilots ( his colleagues ) , that he said once the Americans will never be real friends for Russians .

    But that was only beginning , Americans visited Russia in sept that year and from 1992 to 96 there was a number of as wrote before, joint sim tactical exercises-encounters. The result at the end of 42:0 was in favour of russian Sukhoi' s and what did gen J.Jumper said is also provocative. In reallity , Russian pilots flew Su-27/30 and constantly beat Americans in F-15 .

    In 9G-sustain turn Su-27 has turn rate ( angular speed ) of 28º/sec and F-15 25º/sec ( combat conf. ) .
    About real F-15 combat losses .Several F-15 was shot down so far. On July 1981 one F-15A from IDF/AF was shot down by AAM type R-40R launcjed by SyAF MiG-25PDE , then on Jan 30 1991 one F-15C was shot down by R-40RD1 launched from IrAF MiG-25PDSG , before that one F-15E was shot down by SAM type S-75 Dvina. On March 2011 over Eastern Lybia one F-15E also was shot down by SAM S-200VE Vega-E ( it was not mechanical failure as western sources wrote ).
    About Su-27 combat losses , many ukrainian Su-27's were shot down ,some by Russian fighters ( especially Su-35S with AAM type R-77-1 ) ,some by own SAM ,one ukr. Su-27 was even shotdown by ukr. MiG-29 by mistake of its pilot).

  • This photo was taken in 1996 in Russia ( Savasleyka air base). Besides F-15C is Su-30 number 52 blue( not Su-27UB ) .This was the last time Americans visited Russia after 42 lost simulated air engagements.

    This photo of Su-27S and F-15C was taken earlier during those joint 'friendly' air exercises in the 1992-1996 period.

    Maybe one day they will organize friendly joint exercises Su-57 vs F-22A Raptor?

    It is interesting that both parties used AWACS assets in its countries as support during BVR engagements.Simulated BVR combat were realized by training rounds of medium/long range AAM R--27R/ER, R-27T/ET and also AIM-120 AMRAAM/AIM-7M. From all of these AAM ,IR guided R-27T/ET had best probability of hit ratio.After unsuccessful BVR combat fighters were entering maneuvering close-in combat were Sukhoi pilots had obvious great technical and tactical advantage.Thanks to its excellent maneuverability and HMS+R-73 combination with off-boresight capability of +/-60° ,Su-27 was practically a winner in advance. As USAF gen John Jumper said that ''in head to head combat simulations with USAF pilots flying in Su-27s vs USAF pilots in F-15s, the F-15s will consistently lose.That’s why the F/A-22 is now working up to enter service.” The real situation was that Russians flew their own Su-27 and Americans were in their own F-15C and they consistently lost all sim. engagements. It is interesting to note that USAF gathered all the data and experience from these exercises and that it helped them to work out the combat tactics for the F-22A which otherwise was the answer to the appearance of the Su-27 which we know was the answer to the F-15.

    I must to remind that German Luftwaffe MiG-29A pilots won so many simulated dogfights against almost all NATO 4th gen fighters ( F-15C,F-16C,F/A-18C and Mirage-2000C) during 1990's ,thanks to its excellent maneuverability and that deadly HMS Schel-3UM +R-73E combination ( even with only +/45° off boresight for exported/downgraded MiG-29A/B). Why is so important to know that ,because here is the real info. At the end of 1980's Soviets conducted some simulated dogfights between light tactical fighter MiG-29 and heavy tactical fighter Su-27 in the Lipetsk air base.Su-27 won all simulated dogfights! Thanks to it's much better maneuverability and agility ,better SEP ( Specific Excess Power ) and better dynamic thrust to given weight ratio,Su-27 was ace of the day. In fact ,Su-27 possess much more energy in sustained and instantaneous turns.It is important to know that Su-27 has these flight maneuvering possibilities as better not only in comparison with other fighter on its own class but in comparison with much lighter fighters.

    By the way ,Su-27 ( prototype T-10-15 knows as P-42 ) broke all records achieved by F-15 known as Streak Eagle.Also there is one very interesting detail from Paris Le Bourget 1989. Sukhoi test pilot Victor Pugachov performed not only famous Cobra ( aerodynamic breaking with 120° AoA ) but he made record breaking sustained turn for only 10 sec with turn rate (angular speed) of 36°/sec! It was the real demostration of Su-27's maneuverability /agility ( Victor took off with 50% of kerosene and of course fighter was unarmed ) but that turn shocked many western observers.So to say that ''Gun Only F-15 Eagle Vs fully armed Su-27 Flanker and he will win '' is really unobjectiv,unreal.
    Also about that citation that F-15 have 100 or more aerial victories but without any combat loss. I have list with 10 F-15 lost in combat so far ( july 1981,june 1982 war,1991 Gulf war and 2011 Lybian war) .There is no fighter that can not be shot down and this applies to Su-27 also. Ukr Su-27 were shot down either by Russian Su-35S ( R-77-1 as primary AAM against fighters in BVR ) or by SAM, or even by its own SAM.

Recent Posts

US Naval Aviator explains why maintainers rather than pilots are the long pole in the tent to stand up Ukrainian Air Force F-16 squadrons

First batch of F-16s will be delivered to Ukraine this summer As already reported, Belgian… Read More

12 hours ago

US Navy EA-18G pilot explains why Ukraine should use F-16s just for SEAD missions and not for air-to-air missions

Brussels to provide Kyiv with 30 F-16s Belgian Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib told the Belgian… Read More

1 day ago

The Convair Water-Based B-58: the story of the Hustler seaplane strategic bomber that never was

The Hustler The US Air Force’s first operational supersonic bomber, the B-58 made its initial flight on… Read More

1 day ago

Happy Birthday to a Flying Legend: Remembering the first Phlight of the Phabulous Phantom

The first Phlight of the Phabulous Phantom The F-4 Phantom was the first multiservice aircraft,… Read More

2 days ago

Red Tails participate in their first exercise with the F-35 Lightning II fifth gen fighters

Red Tails participate in their first exercise with the F-35 From May 4 to May… Read More

2 days ago