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Soaring Eagles: F-15 serves for 50-years and counting

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Jefferson Thompson
  • 173rd Fighter Wing

It was July 27, 1972 at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., when the F-15 Eagle took its first flight over the Mojave Desert under the hand of McDonnel-Douglas test pilot Irving L. Burrows.

Twenty-eight months later it was delivered to the U.S. Air Force where it has served continuously for the last 50 years.

July 27, 2022 marked its 50th anniversary, and the 173rd Fighter Wing commemorated the historic occasion of their venerated aircraft.

“The lore of the F-15—its’ got 104 air-to-air kills and it’s never been shot down in combat,” said Lt. Col. Tyler Cox, an Eagle Driver who currently commands the 114th Fighter Squadron at Kingsley Field. “It’s unheard of in the fighter community.”

In tribute to that record it’s been dubbed the “W.G.A.S.F.”—world’s greatest air superiority fighter—by the pilots who fly her. In fact, that acronym is stenciled on the walls of the 114th Fighter Squadron for all to see.

“It’s a testament to its design,” he said, elaborating that the airframe was purpose-built to defeat enemy aircraft and boasted superior handling and power as well as an advanced radar system and weapons load capability. “Which, is why the Air Force still continues to employ it.”

It’s not just the U.S. Air Force who feels this way; one famous story that illustrates its superlative design happened at the hands of two Israeli pilots, a student and instructor, who flew an F-15 Eagle ten miles and landed without a right wing following a mid-air collision.

“I don’t think any other aircraft could have taken that amount of damage, or had that portion of its flight surfaces removed and continue to bring us home safely,” Israeli pilot Zivi Nedivi said after safely landing the severely damaged Eagle, as quoted in theaviationist.com.

About this same time, the mid-1980’s, a 10-year-old American by the name of Victor Knill went to an airshow in upstate New York, “I saw the F-15 and I fell in love with it—I still have the picture of me in front of the jet.” 

Today he is Lt. Col. Victor Knill, an Eagle Driver for the 173rd Fighter Wing, and he says the Eagle motivated him through undergraduate pilot training and after.

“When I went to UPT, I knew I had to finish in the top 50-percent of my class in order to track to the F-15,” he said.  “The look of the jet, its power, and its reputation around the world were my motivation to work hard every day.” 

This storied airframe arrived to Kingsley Field in February of 1998 where then-wing commander Col. Billy Cox welcomed it.

“I knew it was a good airplane,” said Billy Cox, but added, “I am surprised at how long it has served.”

That first Kingsley aircraft was an F-15 B-model, two-seater, from New Orleans, Louisiana.

Today, all the airframes on the ramp are C & D models. They still fill the skies over Klamath Basin with their roar most mornings and afternoons as student pilots work to become rated F-15 pilots.

1st Lt. Tom Moffitt, a student pilot at Kingsley Field, was born 22 years after the Eagle’s first flight. “We’re still up there flying 9-G BFM (basic fighter maneuvers),” the aircraft’s load limit for G-forces, he said.

Each day he and his fellow students take to the skies in the venerated Eagles, attempting to prove themselves worthy of the title Eagle Driver—one could say that after 50 years of proving itself these aircraft are asking the students to do the same.

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