Off we go into the wild blue yonder

Lt. Col. Matthew Griffin, 339th Flight Test Squadron director of operations, and Maj. Gen. Kenneth Lewis Jr., Air Force Reserve Command deputy commander, recover and gather their belongings after flying in an F-15 Eagle aircraft, May 16, 2019, at Robins Air Force Base, Ga. The flight was Lewis’ final in a military aircraft after more than 34 years of service. (U.S. Air Force photo by Jamal D. Sutter)

Consider something for a minute.

This month marks the 44th anniversary for the F-15 Eagle, which entered service with the Air Force in January 1976. Several generations of American fighter pilots have flown a fighter that dates back to 1972. Yes, avionics and weaponry have been extensively upgraded — a modern Eagle could easily blast an “A” model out of the sky. Newer, more advanced fighters like the F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning have come out since, but the F-15 has an outstanding record (over 100 victories and counting, with no losses in combat) and has relatively low operating costs. And the Air Force is still ordering new ones.

But think about the pace of development today versus that of the 1940s.

When Japan targeted American airfields on Hawaii and in the Philippines, they destroyed scores of planes that just a handful of years ago were the premier fighter of their day, but were completely expendable by 1941. Aviation technology advanced so fast in the early 20th Century that as soon as the Army Air Corps started fielding brand new pursuit planes and bombers, they almost immediately had to begin the process to find a replacement. Some planes were obsolete as soon as they entered service.

The extreme pace of development meant that the Army Air Force arsenal by the end of World War II was light years ahead of the peacetime force four-and-a-half years ago. At the beginning of the war we still had biplanes; by the end of the war we were developing jets. Now ponder the fact that McDonnell Aircraft’s F-15 platform is now on its sixth decade of service.

Author: Chris Carter

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