F-15 versus Tomcat (and Phantom and F-16)

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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’. 

Follow Paul’s aviation adventures on his blog here and an in-depth interview about flying and fighting in the F-15 Eagle here. 

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F-15 versus F-14 Tomcat

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“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. “

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F-15 versus F-16

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“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.”

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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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Follow Paul’s aviation adventures on his blog here

Have a look at How to kill a RaptorAn Idiot’s Guide to Chinese Flankers, the 10 worst British military aircraftThe 10 worst French aircraft,  Su-35 versus Typhoon10 Best fighters of World War II top WVR and BVR fighters of today, an interview with a Super Hornet pilot and a Pacifist’s Guide to Warplanes. Was the Spitfire overrated? Want something more bizarre? The Top Ten fictional aircraft is a fascinating read, as is The Strange Story and The Planet Satellite. The Fashion Versus Aircraft Camo is also a real cracker. Those interested in the Cold Way should read A pilot’s guide to flying and fighting in the Lightning. Those feeling less belligerent may enjoy A pilot’s farewell to the Airbus A340. Looking for something more humorous? Have a look at this F-35 satire and ‘Werner Herzog’s Guide to pusher bi-planes or the Ten most boring aircraft. In the mood for something more offensive? Try the NSFW 10 best looking American airplanes, or the same but for Canadians. 

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5 comments

  1. Rocco

    Nothing was mentioned in the F-15 vers F-14’S that the early tomcats had underpowered engines in a very heavy plane giving the advantage to the eagle!!

    • Dejan

      The advantage was not that big, in fact F-14 had an advantage in horizontal turning fight up to 15000 feet at speeds roughly from mach 0.36 to mach 0.76. The F-15 was superior in turning above 25000 ft and in vertical maneuvering. Also F-15 had much superior acceleration which help the Eagle to get out from difficult situations much faster. The gap was closed dramatically when F-14 got the GE F110 engines and it’s T/W ratio improved above 1 (at 60% fuel), all-do the Eagle was still superior in that area. There are stories of F-14B climb canopy to canopy with F-15’s. Anyway If both planes are armed with Sidewinders at the merge it is not a great idea to go vertical against the cold sky.
      In regard the G limits, both planes have the same structural g limit of … I think it was 13g’s but don’t hold my word for it. The limit of 6.5g that was imposed over the Tomcat was only verbal. Navy wanted the planes to last longer and that’s all, but if needed nothing held the pilot back to pull 9 G’s if he felt necessary.
      Other thing that should be taken in consideration is that F-14 was a hard plane to fly, it didn’t take much to depart from controlled flight, so it take a very experienced pilot to fly the plane to its maximum potential. On the other hand F-15 had much superior flight control system which made F-15 much more easy to fly.
      So taken all in to consideration, the two man crew vs one, and all of the above mentioned, the subject mater of F-14 vs F-15 in WVR arena is more like 50:50 and the more experienced pilot being the determinate factor of the final outcome.

      • SPQR

        According to CDR Chesire (USN Tomcat aviator, in an email that he sent me) he routinely had the F-14A from 6.5 to 7G. He said that on the few occasions that he pulled 8G+, he had to log it in his logbook; and tell maintenance (report it to them).

  2. Connie Jaroch

    Yeah…. I just stumbled upon this site. As a former Flt. Line eng mech. on the F-15, I love reading stories of what I consider to be the greatest fighter plane, then and now. I just know what it can do and loved working on them. Thankyou, I will be following this site.

  3. Jackrfly

    When the Tomcat recd the GE engines A+, B,D Super Tomcat, it became much tougher in a turning dogfight for the eagle drivers. Both great planes, glad they are/we’re both on our side. A pilot I met on the Vinson who flew both front line in an exchange program said when asked which was better ” very close, it depends which pilot is having a better day.”

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