The C-model F-15s were entered into the U.S. Air Force inventory in 1979, closely following the introduction of the F-15A (and B) in 1972. The F-15C would become the most pivotal, important and influential air-to-air fighter jet in the world. It is a tactical fighter, with high maneuverability and all-weather capabilities.
Developed by McDonnell Douglas and powered by twin Pratt & Whitney turbofan engines, the F-15C is capable of nearly 50,000 pounds of thrust and has an impressive weight-to-thrust ratio of one. Its speed is within the Mach 2 class and can reach a maximum altitude of 65,000 feet.
The F-15’s legend is bolstered by the fact that, with more than 100 confirmed air-to-air kills, an F-15 has never been shot down in a dogfight.
The C-model, when taking off, demonstrates the visceral aspects of air power with its engines screaming and rumbling, cutting through an observer’s skin and shaking his/her bones. At night, the tail exhaust can be seen as a focused cone of flame, with rings pulsing outward along it, evoking images from the Jet Age, which the jet epitomizes. Once the jet is off the ground, it can go into a totally vertical climb, reaching 30,000 feet in about a minute.
Its design is aggressive and allows for high speed with no loss of maneuverability. The F-15C can turn without losing its airspeed. It was designed to fill a fast-fading niche by being close-combat capable; however, it still retained the long range capabilities favored in fighter jets. This design managed to close the gap with comparable Soviet designs and make up for the shortcomings of the F-4.
Not only aggressive, the F-15C has incredible stamina. Its longevity was unprecedented during its heyday, theoretically being able to remain in the air indefinitely utilizing aerial refueling. Even without aerial refueling, the F-15C can remain airborne for extended periods of time with its ability to carry conformal fuel tanks, giving it a range of 3,000 nautical miles.
The true tests for the F-15 were both Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. During the Gulf War, F-15Cs were responsible for 36 of the 39 air-to-air victories of the USAF. Following the war, F-15Cs were instrumental in conducting Operations Northern Watch and Southern Watch. They also participated briskly during Operation Desert Fox, engaging two Iraqi MiG-25s over the No-Fly Zone.
C/D-model F-15s remain in use by the USAF. The earlier A-B models are still in use with the Israeli Air Force as of 2011. Saudi Arabia also operates the F-15C/D. The D model is a two-seat trainer. Japan operates its own, domestically produced variants, the F-15J and F-15DJ.
Another variant of the F-15, the F-15E “Strike Eagle” was designed in the 1980s to a provide a long-range strike craft that doesn’t need its own fighter escort. More than 330 F-15Es are in use. In February 1991, the “Strike Eagle” scores its only air-to-air kill in a most unique way. It dropped a 2000 lb. GBU-12 laser-guided bomb on an Iraqi Mi-24 helicopter that was unloading soldiers to engage American forces. The bomb hit the helicopter when it was 800 feet in the air, obliterating it.
NASA has used the F-15 for a variety of flight tests. Of note, the F-15 ACTIVE was a successful flight technology demonstrator, equipped with thrust-vectoring engine nozzles.
The F-15 has come to symbolize not only American air superiority and aerial might but also an era. They belong to a class of fighter jet retiring from the long term mission. They are of an aesthetic fast fading from the entirely utilitarian and minimalist designs of the new and future generations of fighter jets. As the Air Force enters the future of small, quiet, stealthy, long range “first strike” fighters, which almost negates the need for close-combat maneuverability, the F-15C stands out as the biggest, most perfect bang with which to end an era.Long will F-15Cs be remembered with the kind of romance that older, pre-jet age fighters (like the P-51 Mustang) are. Its legacy is already secure, as the very site of a C-model F-15 conjures thoughts of it leading and dominating intense aerial ballets. They represent the closing years of past tactics; of an air force fighting loudly and proudly, visible to its enemies and for all the world to see. As we move into a quieter, more subtle era, we will look back at those F-15Cs and think them big, loud and possibly crude. However, we will also submit to them fondness and a feeling of nostalgia, of a proud, noble and honorable service.
Air Cache caught up to an F-15 from the 104th Fighter Wing out of Barnes Air National Guard Base in August 2012’s Great New England Airshow at Westover Air Force Base.
Length: 63.8 ft
Wingspan: 42.8 ft
Height: 18.5 ft
Empty weight: 28,000 lb
Max. takeoff weight: 68,000 lb
Engines: Two Pratt & Whitney F100 afterburning turbofans, 25,000 lbf each
Maximum speed: Mach 2.5+ (1,650+ mph)
Combat radius: 1,222 mi
Ferry range: 3,450 mi with external fuel tanks
Ceiling: 65,000 ft
Rate of climb: 50,000+ ft/min
Thrust-to-weight ratio: 1.12
Guns: One 20 mm M61 Vulcan cannon, 940 rounds
Hardpoints: 11 total with 16,000 lb. capacity
- AIM-7 Sparrow
- AIM-120 AMRAAM
- AIM-9 Sidewinder
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