F-15 pilot Paul ‘Skid’ Woodford trained against the best fighter aircraft the US had in the 1980s. Here he describes how the F-15 fared in dogfights against the F-4 Phantom II, F-14 Tomcat and F-16 ‘Viper’.
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F-15 versus F-14 Tomcat
“F-14s armed with Phoenix missiles had a much longer ‘stick’ than we did, meaning they could launch missiles against us at a greater distance than we could launch our AIM-7s at them. In the 1970s and early 80s the F-14 had a track-while-scan radar that could individually target several targets at a time. The F-15 didn’t get track-while-scan until the second half of the 80s, as I recall. In other words, in a BVR fight the F-14 had the advantage. In a close-in visual fight, the larger and heavier F-14 was at a slight disadvantage: we could out-turn him while keeping our energy up; he would quickly get slow, which we could always tell by the fact that his wings began sweeping forward. In that arena, the F-15 had the advantage. “
F-15 versus F-16
“I don’t know what F-16s are equipped with today. In my time the F-15 had the more powerful radar, allowing us to see and target them before they could see and target us. The BVR advantage was ours. In a visual fight against a clean F-16 armed with Sidewinders, we’re equals. Until the mid-1980s F-15s were limited to 7.33 Gs while F-16s could pull 9 Gs, so the turning advantage was theirs. Later, though, the F-15 was cleared up to 9 Gs and we were equal in a turning fight. Fighting F-16s was like fighting F-15s: it was hard work. At least when you were fighting F-16s you never got confused and shot at your own wingman, as we sometimes did when fighting other F-15s.”
F-15 versus F-4 Phantom II
“In my time, the F-4 carried a shorter-range version of the AIM-7 Sparrow than we did, and its radar wasn’t as good in air-to-air mode. We had a decisive BVR advantage. Early on, when F-4 squadrons would ask to fly dissimilar air combat with F-15 squadrons, they’d ask us to not use our AIM-7s so that they could survive to the merge and engage us visually. Close in, the F-4 could lay on a hard initial turn at the merge, but would quickly begin to bleed off energy after that. I never fought F-4s armed with all-aspect AIM-9 Sidewinders like the AIM-9Ls and Ms we carried. The AIM-9s they carried in my day were older models that couldn’t be employed outside a 60-degree cone extending from their target’s tailpipes, which meant they had to manoeuvre into your six in order to get off a heater shot, while we could fire head-on to them. A well-flown F-4 was a lot of fun to tangle with, and we had a lot of respect for our Phantom brothers, but it was always at a disadvantage against the Eagle.”
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