How Panic Created The Best Fighter Jet Ever: The F-15 Eagle
Last updated: May 7, 2023
The F-15 Eagle fighter jet was created in response to the Soviet Union's new fighter jet, the Foxbat, which had superior capabilities in high altitude, beyond visual range conflicts.
The US Air Force realized their current fighter, the F-4 Phantom, was no longer suitable for these types of fights.
To develop the F-15, leading aircraft designers in the US submitted proposals for a fighter with superior performance in terms of speed, thrust, drag, and weight.
McDonnell Douglas won the contract, creating the F-15 with features such as afterburning turbofans, a high thrust-to-weight ratio, a 360-degree view cockpit, and several missiles under its wings.
Testing proved the F-15 outperformed the Air Force's expectations and broke world records set by the Soviet Union. It was deployed by the US and allied countries such as Israel, Japan, and Saudi Arabia, proving its tactical dominance in any airspace.
Soviet Union's new fighter, the Foxbat, set off alarms in the US
F-4 Phantom was no longer suitable for beyond visual range conflicts
Best aircraft designers in the US submitted proposals for the F-15
F-15 features included afterburning turbofans, high thrust-to-weight ratio, and several missiles
The F-15 outperformed Air Force expectations, broke records, and was deployed worldwide
The MiG-25, which Americans finally examined after a Soviet pilot defected, was not as formidable as the Foxbat in every respect
In July 1967, the Soviet Union reveals a new fighter, the Foxbat, which sets off alarm bells in the United States.
The US does not have a fighter that can combat the Foxbat.
Military planners believed that air battles of the future would be fought beyond visual range, making the F-4 Phantom, the newest fighter jet at the time, no longer suitable.
The Phantom was not agile or light, making dogfighting more difficult.
The Phantom's guided missiles proved hopelessly inaccurate, pilots were left defenseless, and it was built without a gun for close combat.
American pilots were being downed at alarming rates, and military planners were learning that the age of dogfighting was far from over.
The Need for a Dedicated Air Superiority Fighter 00:35
In 1968, the Air Force set its sights on building a state-of-the-art air superiority fighter.
Leading US aircraft designers were invited to submit proposals in 1968.
Their entries were assessed using a groundbreaking concept called Energy-Maneuverability, a mathematical formula to help define a fighter's total performance in terms of speed, thrust, drag, and weight.
In December 1969, the contract to build the new fighter was awarded to McDonnell Douglas.
The F-15 Eagle was designed from the ground up for tactical dominance in any air space.
In 1976, Lieutenant Viktor Belenko, a 29-year-old pilot with the Soviet Air Defence Forces, flew his MiG-25 from a Soviet airbase in the Far East to a civilian Airport in Japan, to escape the Soviet Union.
Americans got the chance to examine Foxbat down to every last detail after more than a decade shrouded in mystery.
Although similar in size and appearance, the MiG-25 F-15 had almost nothing else in common.
The MiG-25 was built mostly out of heavy nickel steel alloy, weighing nearly twice as much as the F-15.
The large wings of the MiG-25 were not for agility; they were needed just to get the monstrous jet airborne.
The enormous weight meant that the MiG-25 could only pull a four and a half G maneuver.
The MiG-25's combat radius was a mere 300 kilometers.
Its avionics used outdated vacuum tubes, and its radar lacked look-down capability, meaning it couldn't even detect an F-15 flying below its horizon.
The MiG-25 was anything but the dogfighting monster Americans had feared; it was purely a high altitude interceptor, designed to reach incredible speeds catch enemy bombers.
It was not built to do much else.
The Soviets had kept the Foxbat's capabilities a closely guarded secret, cashing in on its propaganda value and the alarm it had caused Americans.