Fighters For The Missile Era
First flown on February 26, 1979, the F-15C had various refinements, including more fuel and a new ejection seat, and the F-15D, a two-place version, first flew on June 19. Twin 732-gallon Conformal Fuel Tanks (CTF) originally developed for Israel could be added next to the engine nacelles and improved F100-PW-220 engines were introduced in 1985.
F-15Cs first joined the18th TFW at Kadena, Okinawa, in September 1979, and they displaced the seven Tactical Fighter Wings’ F-15As, which then replaced F-106s in four Fighter Interceptor squadrons and F-4s in five Air National Guard squadrons. Frequent upgrades included advanced central computers, APG-70 radar and AIM-9J Sidewinders. Production paused after the last of 473 F-15Cs and 78 F-15Ds were completed on November 3, 1989. Of these, the USAF got 409 F-15C and 61 F-15D models while Israel added 24 F-15Cs and two F-15Ds.
Japan purchased 131 F-15C and 20 F-15D interceptors without bomb racks, and the first two, designated F-15J, were turned over in July 1980, followed by four F-15DJ two-seaters assembled in St. Louis and eight as knocked-down assemblies to be completed by Mitsubishi along with the remaining fighters. The first Mitsubishi F-15DJ flew on August 26, 1981.
Saudi Arabia was the third country rich enough to buy Eagles, the first of 16 F-15Ds arriving on August 11, 1981. They were joined by 46 F-15Cs, whose first success was to down two Iranian F-4s over the Persian Gulf on June 15, 1984.
While all USAF Eagles could carry four Mk 84 or 16 Mk 82 bombs, the Strike Eagle concept offered a dual-role tactical bomber capable of night attacks with precision-guided weapons. A prototype converted from the second F-15B began tests in August 1981. Production F-15Es had FLIR and LANTIRN pods, strengthened structure, APQ-70 radar, ALQ-135 ECM, and AIM-120A missiles. Internal fuel and gun ammunition was reduced to 2,019 gallons and 450 rounds.
The first of eight development aircraft flew December 11, 1986, and 120 operational F-15Es were ordered. On December 29, 1988, the 4th TFW received one to begin gradual conversion of two strike fighter squadrons.
In response to the invasion of Kuwait, the 1st Tactical Fighter Wing’s 71st TFS flew 24 F-15Cs 8,000 miles nonstop from Langley AFM to Dhahran, Saudi Arabia on August 7, 1990, in 15 hours with 11 inflight refueling contacts. That squadron killed a Mirage with an AIM-7M Sparrow on January 17, 1991, the first score of the 120 F-15s in Desert Storm. USAF confidence in the AIM-7M was justified as Sparrows made 28 of the 41 air-to-air kills of Iraqi aircraft, while ten kills were made with AIM-9J Sidewinders.
F-15Cs of the 53rd TFS downed three MiG-23s, two Su-25s two Su-22s, and a Mirage. Eagles from the 58th TFS, 33rd TFW, downed five MiG-29s, four MiG-23s, three Su-22s, two MiG-25s, and two Mirages by February 7. They were joined by the 525th TFW, which flew from Turkey to down another Mirage. A pilot from the three Saudi F-15C squadrons also downed two Mirages with Sidewinders on January 24.
Two 4th TFW squadrons, the 335th and 336th TFS, brought 48 two-seat F-15Es to Arabia to use their LANTIRN targeting pods for ground attacks, with Mk 82s and GBU-12B Paveway II bombs, losing two planes to AAA.
F-15 production was revived after the Gulf War to replenish Saudi Arabia with nine F-15Cs and three F-15Ds, with another five F-15Ds for Israel. The last of 221 F-15Es was delivered to the USAF in July 1994, bringing the total to 1,234 Eagles from St. Louis. But the Air Force was reluctant to let the production line close entirely, and ordered 13 more F-15Es, to be delivered on a monthly basis in the new century, as well as a promised South Korean program.