America’s main air-to-air fighter since the mid-1970s is still going strong. The F-15 Eagle, originally a McDonnell Douglas product, now built by Boeing, entered U.S. Air Force service in 1976. Today a force of some 250 F-15Cs and Ds comprise the majority of the American air-dominance fleet alongside 180 or so Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptors. With equipment and structural upgrades, the F-15s are set to fly and fight for another 20 or 30 years in Air Force colors.
Recent months have represented a kind of rebirth for the “light gray” F-15 fleet (as opposed to ground-attack F-15E force, whose airframes are painted dark gray). After a decade of counter-insurgency campaigns during which their services were not in high demand, the light-gray F-15Cs have returned to the front lines in Southwest Asia and the Western Pacific. This year the Air Force began rotating F-15Cs from Active and National Guard squadrons to an undisclosed air base near Iran — the air-to-air Eagle’s first large-scale appearance in the region since the early days of the 2003 Iraq war.
F-15Cs from the Massachusetts Air National Guard’s 104th Fighter Wing deployed in March to join light-gray Eagles from the 18th Wing home-based at Kadena Air Force Base in Japan.