A Brief History of the Strike Eagle

By Jeffrey Brundt

In the late 1970s, McDonnell Douglas and Hughes Aircraft collaborated in a privately funded study of the feasibility of adapting the basic F-15 Eagle to the air-to-ground role. Back in the late 1960s, the F-15 had originally been conceived as a multi-role aircraft, but the fighter role had become paramount, and in 1975 the air-to-ground role had been set aside.

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As part of this program, McDonnell Douglas converted the second F-15B (71-0291) under a project known as Strike Eagle. The aircraft first flew on July 8, 1980. It was equipped with a modified APG-63 radar using synthetic aperture radar techniques to do high-resolution ground mapping. The back seat was configured for a Weapons System Officer (WSO) who would operate the weapons delivery systems. The aircraft was equipped with the FAST conformal fuel tanks (now known as CFT’s) that had been introduced on the F-15A. The aircraft was equipped with stub pylons (with a modified MER) on the bottom of each of the FAST packs and MER’s on the wing pylons for the carriage of bombs.

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The Strike Eagle prototype was later equipped with a centerline gun pod and was provided with a Pave Tack laser designator pod (as carried by some F-4Es and F-111Fs) carried on the port side of the forward air intake. This made the aircraft capable of delivering "smart" laser-guided bombs without the assistance of a separate designator aircraft.

The Strike Eagle aircraft was displayed at the September 1980 Farnborough air show in the hope of attracting customers. In the meantime, the USAF had begun studying possible concepts for an Enhanced Tactical Fighter (ETF) that would replace the General Dynamics F-111. The USAF wanted an aircraft which could conduct the strike mission alone, without any need for fighter escort, electronic jamming aircraft, or AWACS support. In the interest of cost containment, the Air Force decided to explore the possibility that conversions of existing aircraft such as the F-15 or F-16 could meet the ETF requirement rather than to try and develop an entirely new aircraft. One of the aircraft initially considered was the Panavia Tornado, but it was ruled out fairly early in the game because of its short range and its obvious political disadvantage of not being made in the USA.

The ETF studies led to a fly-off competition between the F-15 and the cranked arrow-wing F-16XL (sometimes known as the F-16E). McDonnell Douglas provided four Eagles for the flyoff, one of them being the Strike Eagle demonstrator. F-15D serial number 80-0055 flew weapons separation tests at Eglin AFB. The Strike Eagle demonstrator aircraft flew tests at Edwards AFB evaluating the efficiency of the Synthetic Aperture Radar. F-15C serial number 78-0468 flew sorties from Edwards AFB to studyfully-instrumented performance and flying qualities. F-15D 81-0063 completed 36 operational evaluation flights from Edwards AFB. General Dynamics provided two cranked arrow-winged F-16XLs for the competition.

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The F-15 was named the winner of the Dual-Role Fighter competition on February 24, 1984, partly on the basis of cost estimates. The production version of the Strike Eagle was designated F-15E. Full scale development of the F-15E began in 1984, with the first production F-15E (86-0183) flying on December 11, 1986, with test pilot Gary Jennings at the controls.

The Kit

I bought this kit over 15 years ago shortly after coming to work for McDonnell Douglas. At that time the E model was just starting to roll off the assembly line here at the St. Louis plant. I had every intention of finishing this plane and proudly displaying it on my desk at work but time, family and other obligations caused me to put it aside. Only recently have I gotten back into scale modeling and after its having survived all the years and several moves I thought now is the time to finish the Eagle up.

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I came to realize during the build that Revell’s Strike Eagle is not a true F-15E. I had never realized until recently the history of ‘291’. Originally I had wanted to finish the plane up in the Lizard or European 1, three toned green, color scheme. However, since this bird was a demonstrator it had gone through several different schemes and configurations. I opted to build the kit with the two-tone ghost grey scheme like other F-15 models.

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The kit was built stock out-of-the-box. I decided to leave the CFT’s off since the documentation I had showed the ghost grey scheme without them. (I’ll wait until I build my 1/48 Pro-Modeller F-15E to have one with CFT’s) There was quite a bit of putty needed on the joint between the forward and center fuselage joint. The hump of the ECS exhaust duct, aft of the canopy, also need some re-shaping to make it fair into the canopy mold line better. The bombs took the most time to sand and prep. I had made all sixteen initially and that’s a lot of seam lines to fill and sand. The model is painted with Humbrol light ghost grey and dark ghost grey. I free handed the camo pattern with my airbrush. The engine section was painted with Testor’s MM buffing titanium. I know it looks a bit dark but from photos I’ve seen of older A models in service the titanium seems to darken with age. The model was then sprayed with Future and decaled. The kit decals held up well after all those years. After the decals had time to dry a final spray of Testor’s dullcote was applied. I then removed the masks from the cockpit area, finished installing the seats and completed some last minute detail painting.

This was my first model completed after a 15-year hiatus from the hobby.

© Jeff Brundt

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This article was published on Wednesday, July 20 2011; Last modified on Saturday, May 14 2016