‘When I had about 700 hours in the Eagle, I went out with my flight lead and we did a 2v2 with F/A-18 Hornets. My flight lead died 5 seconds after the merge,’ Shari Williams, former USAF F-15 Eagle pilot.
First flown in 1972, the F-15 Eagle entered US Air Force (USAF) service in 1974. The Eagle’s most notable characteristics are its great acceleration and maneuverability. It was the first US fighter with engine thrust greater than the basic weight of the aircraft, allowing it to accelerate while in a vertical climb. Its great power, light weight and large wing area combine to make the Eagle very agile.
Although it lost the LWF competition to the YF-16, the YF-17 (which was nicknamed “Cobra” and was the culmination of a long line of Northrop designs, beginning with the N-102 Fang in 1956, continuing through the F-5 family) was selected for the new Naval Fighter Attack Experimental (VFAX) program and evolved in to the F/A-18.
This design, conceived as a small and lightweight fighter, was scaled up to the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, which is similar in size to the original F-15.
How would these exceptional fighter jets fare one versus the other in a dogfight?
‘Like most fights it often comes down to experience.
‘The F-15 can out turn the F-18 above 350 kts, the F-18 has an advantage below 350kts. Where the F-18 really suffers is drag and power. In the Eagle I never had a problem getting slow with a Hornet, I could fly my plane around 100kts its and keep up with the Hornet, the advantage I enjoyed was power, even slow I could out climb and power the Hornet.
‘In more of an ACM environment, when we accelerated, we could pick up 100kts in 3 sec or so, the Hornet would pick up around 60 kts, over time I would have the speed and power to exploit the vertical or out rate the Hornet. Now, if an Eagle pilot is not good at slow speed fights, they will lose to a good Hornet pilot…. quickly.
‘When I had about 700 hours in the Eagle, I went out with my flight lead and we did a 2v2 with Hornets, after two longer range setups (35–40nm), we had enough gas to do a 2v2 visual butterfly setup (full up for both planes), with post merge kills. A fight that should in theory favor the Hornet. My flight lead died 5 seconds after the merge (he turned the wrong way).
‘So, I was left to fight 2 Hornets.
‘The fight that transitioned from a close in turning fight, to a more expanded fight, a vertical fight and back to a turning fight many times over. I slowly worked my energy up, expanding the fight to get weapons separation, and shot one Hornet, then proceeded to kill the second one at the floor with the gun.’
‘I truly think they believed they had me dead to rights after my flight lead died. That there was no way they could lose. They were wrong. Good times!’
‘Actually they were two experienced Marine aviators. I talked to them later. They recency of currency in air-air was not all that great, and in there own words, they figured they had me dead to rights. They did not press the attack as they should of. The first Hornet died simply because I was more proficient at judging angle off, range, nose rate and energy, I was also faster working the HOTAS to lock, and shoot than he was. In air-air, everything comes down to experience. Once one vs one I was able to exploit my excess power, we were at the floor and my advantage becomes even more pronounced there. I have hundreds of engagements against Hornets (all models). I cannot remember one that stuck out as particularly difficult. The plane has some serious limitations(T/W ratio and drag), but usually they suffer from the same problem F-16 pilots do. Jack of all master of none.’
Photo credit: Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class John P. Curtis / U.S. Navy