The F-15 Eagle’s Development Helped Bridge U.S. Fighter Jet History

Photo by Jim Mumaw.

The Eagle hasn’t landed … the F-15 continues to be one of the best fighter jets in the world.

The United States has produced some of the most lethal and potent fighter aircraft to take to the skies. As technology and innovation has improved from propeller to jet power, the red, white and blue has been able to enjoy aerial superiority.

Hermann Göring, who was in charge of German’s Luftwaffe, said during World War II that “he who controls the skies controls the war.” That was true as Germany conquered Europe at the beginning of the war and was proven true at the end when the Allies ruled the air.

That remains the case with the F-15 Eagle. Its development came about when the Vietnam War exposed a flaw in the United States’ fighter plans.

In the Korean War, the U.S. used the F-86 Sabre to gain a 10-1 kill ratio over the Soviet MiGs. The dogfighting tactics and ability that were hard-earned during World War II were carried over and utilized by pilots during the Korean conflict.

However, the development of the Phantom F-4 that was utilized in Vietnam changed the aerial tactics. The military planners and developers made the decision that the F-4 – which was an outstanding aircraft – would not be set up for dogfighting. Instead air-to-air misses would allow the Phantom to take on enemy fighters from long range.

The F-4 was not equipped with a gun. That meant that after exhausting its missiles – which, sadly, too often missed – the Phantom was defenseless. The improved MiGs flown by North Vietnamese pilots, were able to take advantage of that weakness.

The aptly named Eagle was developed by McDonnell Douglas as a twin-engine, high-performance, all-weather air superiority fighter.

And it has indeed proven superior. This excellent documentary provides the background and reasons for the F-15’s development. 40 years after the F-15 debuted, it still rules the skies, only slowly being supplanted by the F-22. The tease to watch this: during Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom, check out the Eagle’s won-loss record.