VIDEO: Watch Streak Eagle Smash Time-to-Climb Records in 1975

Check out this old USAF film (split into two parts) documenting Project Streak Eagle, when a stripped-down, souped-up F-15A Eagle smashed eight time-to-climb records in the span of two weeks - and six of them in one day - in 1975 at Grand Forks AFB in North Dakota. Thanks to YouTuber shaunhill13 for the find and the post.

F-15 Streak Eagle
F-15 Streak Eagle

In 1975, the U.S. Air Force knew their then-brand new Eagle, first flown just two and a half years earlier, was a hot ship, but wanted to win a little bit of propaganda by showing off how hot it really was. What better way to prove that than by chasing down the standing time-to-climb records owned by two airplanes: the McDonnell-Douglas F-4 Phantom, which the Eagle replaced in the USAF inventory, and the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-25 Foxbat, which the Eagle was designed to beat out in the air superiority arena. The reason the Air Force could to do this was simple. The F-15 was the first combat fighter to have a thrust-to-weight ratio of greater than 1. The F-15A's two Pratt & Whitney F100 engines combined for almost 48,000 pounds of thrust with full afterburner, while a fully loaded Eagle itself weighed around 44,500 pounds. So theoretically, the Eagle didn't need its wings to go straight up. It should be noted that time-to-climb performance is arguably the most critical performance parameter for interceptors. After all, an interceptor is only as good as its ability to to meet high-flying enemy aircraft at a point as far from base as possible, in as little time as possible. This was the F-15's primary job. A full year before the Eagle entered service, the seventeenth Eagle produced was taken straight off the McDonnell-Douglas line and sent to Grand Forks AFB in North Dakota, where cold January weather would be favorable for record-breaking. Three pilots, Maj. Roger Smith, Maj. Dave W. Peterson, and Maj. William R. "Mack" MacFarlane were sent there with it and told to go re-write the record book.

F-15 Streak Eagle Pilots
F-15 Streak Eagle Pilots

The Eagle in question, No. 72-0119, was stripped of its radar, flaps, air brake, guns and fire control system avionics, and left unpainted in order to save weight - 1800 pounds worth compared to the garden variety F-15A, according to Joe Baugher. Operation Streak Eagle commenced in January 1975.

F-15 Streak Eagle in flight
F-15 Streak Eagle in flight

To further optimize the Streak Eagle's weight for each flight, the plane was only loaded with as much fuel as it needed to make each record attempt. For takeoff, the plane was taxied to the end of the runway at Grand Forks and hooked up to a hold-back bar, as can be seen in the video. The pilot then throttled the engines to full afterburner, and at the precise moment, the bar was released, and the Streak Eagle launched. Even given the lightness of the airframe and the power of the engine, it's still remarkable to see how quickly the Eagle would lift off the runway after an incredibly short takeoff roll of about 400 feet. Between January 16 and February 1, Majors Smith, MacFarlane and Peterson would make good on their orders to re-write the time-to-climb record book eight times over. Among the highlights from the video:

  • The Streak Eagle knocked off five records in three flights in the span of six hours on the first day, January 16.
  • The second flight on that day broke three records: 6,000m, 9,000m and 12,000m.
  • The third flight reached 15,000m (just under 50,000 feet) in one minute, 17.2 seconds, which was a faster time to that height than the Saturn V rocket from the Apollo program.
  • On the final flight, to 30,000m (just over 98,000 feet) on February 1, Major Roger Smith pushed the Streak Eagle over the top at a maximum of just over 102,300 feet, in what the video calls a "nearly ballistic trajectory."

Anytime you can use the words "ballistic trajectory" when flying a fighter plane, you're doing something awesome. The film above is in two parts in the embedded playlist, and shows each of the six record attempts in real time, which is quite amazing to watch in itself. And the music is so 1970s.

Streak Eagle's records would not stand forever. Some eleven years later, the Sukhoi P-42 - a prototype of the Su-27 'Flanker' with a thrust-to-weight ratio of nearly 2:1 - would systematically erase the Streak Eagle's marks. You can see a short video of that here. The Streak Eagle, now with a fresh coat of paint to cover its previously unkempt hide, sits quietly in storage today at the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio. But over those two weeks in early 1975, the Streak Eagle laid claim to one of the most phenomenal record-breaking sprees for one airplane in history.

F-15 Streak Eagle USAM Museum
F-15 Streak Eagle USAM Museum

DVD Review: The West's Land-Based Fighters and Bombers

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I'll start the DVD reviews with the first DVD of a series I've spent a long time chasing down. Back when I was a kid, I loved watching "Wings" on the Discovery Channel. I recorded almost every episode to VHS, and damn near wore out the tapes over the years.

It was easy to pick out the "Great Planes" series, but the more I watched, the more I saw other episodes that didn't quite fit the mold. This was the first of them.

Now, let's be up front: "The West's Land-Based Fighters and Bombers" is charmingly dry and totally only for nerds like me. It was produced in 1987, so it's also very dated by now. But it provides an excellent technical overview of the major aircraft types in use by the western powers toward the end of the Cold War.

This was the first of the "Modern Combat Aircraft" series produced by Command Vision, Ltd. in Britain, which no longer exists. But the series was picked up by ArtsMagic DVD, and re-released on DVD for the modern...er, nostalgic audience.

The best part of this DVD is that it's almost exactly one hour long. The old version of this that appeared on "Wings" had to be edited down for time to about 45 minutes. So if you remember that episode, you've got some nice bonus footage that you didn't see back in the day.

As far as the plot, it's an itemized rundown of the major U.S. and western aircraft types of the time. Chris Chant's narration is extraordinarily well-written, although it is technical and a bit dry at times. The video itself is pretty good, with plenty of action and solid research.

My favorite line, about the B-52: "The mighty beast is in the evening of its life, and it to be replaced in the penetration role by the B-1." That was in 1987.

Aircraft profiled include:

  • Boeing B-52 Stratofortress
  • General Dynamics F-111
  • Rockwell B-1B
  • Saab JAS 37 Viggen*
  • IAI Kfir*
  • Dassault-Breguet Mirage 2000
  • McDonnell-Douglas F-4 Phantom II
  • General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon (with an interesting profile of LANTIRN)
  • McDonnell-Douglas F/A-18 Hornet
  • McDonnell-Douglas F-15 Eagle
  • Panavia Tornado ADV
  • Northrop F-5E Tiger II
  • Northrop F-20 Tigershark (REALLY interesting and rare footage)
  • British Aerospace Harrier GR.3
  • British Aerospace Harrier GR.5
  • McDonnell-Douglas AV-8B Harrier II
  • SEPECAT Jaguar*
  • Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II
  • Panavia Tornado IDS

* - Edited out on "Wings"

The overall dryness drops it from being a 5/5 in my book, although if nostalgia were the sole determinant of the review, it would be there. I recommend it only for the dorkiest of us, myself included.

You can purchase "The West's Land-Based Fighters and Bombers" here:

EDITOR'S NOTE: Added credit to Chris Chant for his hard work on this series.