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Operation Streak Eagle


The United States Air Force set new climb-time records with the McDonnell Douglas F-15 Superior Fighter aircraft on this date in 1975. The records were set at the Grand Forks Air Force Base as part of Operation Streak Eagle.

Weighing 31,908 pounds, the Streak Eagle was the first U.S. fighter jet to have engine thrust greater than the normal weight of the aircraft, nearly forty percent more. This meant that the Streak Eagle was able to accelerate while in a vertical climb, something few aircraft have been able to do. The first test model of the jet was flown in 1972. Afterward, several pre-production versions were manufactured for further testing. The high-tech plane would need to be thoroughly tested in order for the Air Force to make a decision regarding how efficient, safe, and necessary the plane would be to regular operations. In order for the jet to join the combat force, the advantages of its use would have to outweigh any disadvantages in maintenance or design.

Operation Streak Eagle was part of that testing. The operation would place some of the best fighter pilots behind the wheel, with the goal of breaking several climb-time records. “Climb-time” or “time-to-climb” are terms that describe the time it takes for an aircraft to climb to a certain height. The elite pilots chosen for the tests were Major Willard R. MacFarlane, Major Roger Smith, and Major David Peterson. Since the Streak Eagle was an all-weather jet, it was fitting that the Air Force decided to run the tests out of the Grand Forks Air Force Base in January, further testing the plane’s capabilities.

On January 16th, 1975, the Streak Eagle broke five separate climb-time records, reaching 15 vertical kilometers in 77 seconds on its final run. Three additional records were broken in the following two weeks, with a final record of 30 kilometers in 207 seconds.

All three pilots were awarded the prestigious Mackay Trophy that year for distinguishing themselves during the operation. Despite the fact that the tests were considered a huge success, “differences in internal structure and systems operation made it too costly to return to operational service” and the Streak Eagle was retired to the National Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio, in 1980.

Dakota Datebook written by Jayme L. Job