For a time, the McDonnell Douglas (now under Boeing) F-15 Eagle series was the pinnacle of American air superiority, incorporating advanced technologies and forward-thinking design that evolved into a highly maneuverable and performance-enhanced multi-role fighter platform. The F-15 was designed to succeed the highly-respect, but ultimately aged, McDonnell F-4 Phantom II series from the Vietnam War years and would go on to achieve an excellent kill-to-loss record - at one time totaling 100 combat kills to no losses.
The F-15 (in its air superiority/interceptor form) entered service with the United States Air Force in 1976 and was quick to position itself as the best fighter platform in the world - capable of engaging any enemy aircraft at range. The prototype was designated the YF-15A with the first production models taking on the F-15A designation. This was followed by the two-seat F-15B (initially the TF-15A) two-seat variant. The F-15C was another single-seat model introducing the F100-P-220 series engines. The F-15D was of similar scope though a two-seat version. The aircraft first saw combat actions in Israeli hands when Israeli F-15's shot down Soviet-produced Syrian Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 "Fishbed" fighters in a much publicized confrontation. Since then, the series has been introduced in a variety of limited "flavors" including a two-seat trainer conversion model, a strike platform and the improved "Strike Eagle" two-seat attack variant.
The base interceptor F-15 Eagle provides the pilot with a modern approach to air combat complete with digital avionics and engine systems as well as cockpit management through multi-function displays (MFDs) and a detailed Heads-Up Display (HUD) unit. This provides the pilot with the ability to fly the aircraft without taking his view from the action ahead and outside. The powerful afterburning Pratt & Whitney afterburning turbofan engines can propel the F-15 to speeds upwards of 1,600 miles per hour.
The newer F-15E "Strike Eagle" variant provides much improved avionics capabilities and incorporates a second rear-seated crew member to assist in the redefined strike role. The system, retaining all of its dogfighting pedigree, is now made more potent with the addition of air-to-ground capabilities through the fielding of precision-guided munitions and missiles. Strike Eagle models entered service in 1988 and continue to play a vital role in USAF air combat activities around the globe.
Standard armament for the F-15 includes a 20mm M61A1 Gatling-style internal cannon for close-in combat. This is offset at longer ranges by the AIM-9 "Sidewinder", AIM-7 "Sparrow", and AIM-120 "AMRAAM" air-to-air missiles. For the ground attack role, the F-15 utilizes the family of GBU laser-guided/electro-optically guided bombs, JDAMs, cluster bombs, HARM anti-radiation missiles, the venerable AGM-65 "Maverick" air-to-surface missile, and conventional drop bombs. Due to its origins in the Cold War, the F-15 was also designed to carry and release the B51 and B61 series of nuclear bombs if required.
Because of strict American regulation of exports, few international customers are actually allowed to purchase the F-15 Eagle. The few that have include Israel, Japan and Saudi Arabia. Israeli F-15's are designated as the F-15I "Ra'am" (or "Thunder") and were delivered from 1998 onwards, drastically broadening the capabilities of the Israeli Air Force (IAF). For Japan, the F-15 serves in its Self-Defense Force (SDF) under the designation of F-15J (single-seat) and F-15DJ (twin-seat) and are locally-produced under license. Saudi Arabia is one of the largest foreign operators of the mount with at least 70 in operation as of this writing (2012) and a further 84 having been announced in a US DoD release on March 8th, 2012. The official US DoD announcement is as follows:
"The Boeing Co., Mo., is being awarded an $11,399,100,000 firm-fixed-price, cost-plus-fixed-fee, time-and-materials contract to fulfill the Foreign Military Sales requirement of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to procure 84 new F-15 Saudi advanced aircraft with systems and munitions. This particular undefinitized contract action covers development efforts for the new aircraft and retrofit as well as procurement of the 84 new production aircraft. The locations of the performance are El Segundo, Calif., Ocala, Fla., and Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Work is expected to be completed October 2020. ASC/WWQ, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, is the contracting activity (FA8634-12-C-2651)."
With the arrival of the Lockheed F-22 "Raptor" next generation aircraft, the end of the road is in sight for the F-15 Eagle, bringing a close one of the most combat-capable aircraft ever designed. Until the inevitable occurs, the F-15 will undoubtedly continue to serve in a frontline role for some time to come.