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F-15 Eagles still flying high at 30

TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. (AFPN) -- The F-15 Eagle turned 30 years old July 27, but those who fly it or maintain it say this bird is as spry as ever.

Considering the numbers that really count, the aircraft is mission perfect. It currently boasts a combat record of 104 kills without a loss, a score that includes Israeli and Saudi Arabian air force F-15s.

"It's holding up very well for its 30 years," said Master Sgt. Jeroy Stelly, a section chief for the 2nd Fighter Squadron's crew chiefs here. "That has a lot to do with the people who work on them."

Pilots here are not surprised the Eagle is still the world's premier air superiority fighter, even after three decades of service.

Is the aircraft ready for pasture?

"Not at all," said Lt. Col. Matt Donovan, 95th Fighter Squadron commander, "It's just a superb fighting airplane."

The colonel said the F-15 is programmed to continue flying through at least 2015.

Capt. Dwight Minnick, a 1st Fighter Squadron maintenance officer, agreed with Stelly that the Eagle is weathering the years far beyond expectations.

"The aircraft was designed with a life span of approximately 5,000 hours, and many of our aircraft are well over the 5,000-hour mark, but you wouldn't know it based upon how well these jets are flying," Minnick said.

"Airframes tend to show more stress fatigue over time in the form of cracks and stuff, but overall they can withstand a lot," said Master Sgt. Moody Summerell, a flight chief assistant for the 95th FS crew chiefs. "I believe the corrosion prevention and overall dedicated maintenance performed now and in the past are the prime reasons the F-15 has been around so long."

Despite the aircraft's high hours, Donovan said, "I'm as confident flying in one today as I was 19 years ago when I started flying them. A lot of that is due to our maintainers."

Donovan was proud to point out his own maintainers have notched the world's highest F-15 mission capable rates.

"That's due in no small part to the 19- and 20-year-old heroes of mine who come in and take care of these airplanes, tap the pilots on the shoulders and say, 'Take care of it,'" he said.

Donovan also credits strong training programs for much of the Eagle's success.

"I think another real key is the superior training and capabilities of the pilots who fly it," he said.

The colonel said he has seen U.S. Air Force F-15 pilots demonstrate their high-quality training during exercises by consistently winning dissimilar air engagements against foreign, highly matched "opponent" pilots and aircraft, such as front-line Russian-built fighters. The same success resulted when U.S. Air Force pilots swapped aircraft with their adversaries.

With the Eagle notching 30 years of service, it is obvious around Tyndall that its own F-15s are as old or older than most of the students here training to fly it.

"The Eagle is actually about five years older than I am, but that doesn't change at all the confidence that I have in its capabilities," said 1st Lt. Dave Martinez, a Tyndall F-15 Basic, or B-course student as they are commonly known. "It has been tested in combat countless times and every time has emerged as the winner. Not one Eagle has been lost in combat in three decades. If that isn't proof enough of its capabilities, then I don't know what is."

Three decades old or not, the F-15 inspires as much awe as ever in those who see it, maintain it or fly it for the first time.

"The Eagle isn't just impressive, it's imposing," said B-course student 1st Lt. Tony Bierenkoven. "Its sheer size is the first thing a person will notice when (he or she gets) up close. A plane that large being able to maneuver like it does speaks for itself." (Courtesy of Air Education and Training Command News Service)