Ever since the advent of the jet engine in the 1940s, the idea of making aircraft go as fast as possible has excited aircraft designers all over the world. Of course, we know two of the fastest aircraft ever made are the hypersonic X-15 and the SR-71 Blackbird. But when it comes to military jet fighters, it’s difficult to reach speeds of Mach 3 +, simply as more than just speed comes into the equation when it comes to developing such an aircraft. It has to work in its intended role.
Over the years, the United States has developed many great fighter jets. There is the F-104 Starfighter, dubbed “the missile with a man in it”. Then we have the more recent F/A-18 Hornet, and of course the latest and greatest in the F-22 Raptor and the F-35 Lightning II. But what is the fastest US fighter jet? Well, it is none of these aircraft. The fastest fighter ever seen in US military service is the McDonnell Douglas/Boeing F-15E Strike Eagle. Derived from the original F-15 Eagle, the Strike Eagle first flew in December 1986, and to this day remains a potent multirole strike fighter and interceptor.
How The Strike Eagle First Took Flight
The F-15 Eagle, the original that is, was first developed to replace the slowly aging McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II, itself a highly capable machine. When the F-15 itself entered service, it proved to be a highly capable aircraft, scoring as many as 100 aerial combat victories with no losses in air-to-air combat of any F-15, as of at least 2007. But despite the success of the aircraft, McDonnell Douglas was quietly working on an evolution of the aircraft in the 1980s.
A Familiar Design Enters Service With The USAF
The F-15E would still be capable of air-to-air combat, but also have a deep-strike mission capability not seen on the original F-15. But despite the mission changes, the airframe of the F-15 was versatile enough to be easily adapted to suit the needs of the F-15E. The aircraft still has a back seat for a weapon systems officer, or wizzo, while the new Strike Eagle was now equipped with a vast tactical electronic warfare system or TEWS. This integrated all counter-measures on the jet, including the radar itself and various jammers and flare/chaff dispensers.
The Strike Eagle Lived Up To Its Name
The aircraft though soon lived up to its promise. Some 18 Iraqi jets were easily destroyed in ground attacks by the aircraft, and the only air-to-air kill of the war for the F-15E saw it down a Mil Mi-24 helicopter. Following Iraq, the aircraft were then used in Turkey throughout the 1990s, during Operations Southern and Northern Watch. The F-15E was also used during the War in Afghanistan, Operation Iraqi Freedom and their deployment in the United Kingdom at RAF Lakenheath has seen them achieve a cult following.
The Future Of America’s Strike Eagle
Despite the introduction of the F-35 Lightning II, it is unlikely that the F-15 will see retirement anytime soon. New versions of the aircraft are on the way, the most recent being the F-15EX Eagle II to take the original Strike Eagle to the next level. The aircraft has also seen successful service in air arms across the world, particularly in Israel. Despite its first flight being some 35 years ago, the F-15E Strike Eagle has every chance of being in service for several more decades. And the new EX Eagle II will ensure that its legacy lives on for many years after that.