The F-15 Eagle is a formidable all-weather fighter, designed to achieve and maintain air superiority. Notably, it was the first US fighter with thrust exceeding its basic weight, allowing it to accelerate even in a vertical climb.
During the 1980s, when the US defense strategy was reminiscent of the ‘Star Wars’ era, the idea of using the F-15 as a satellite destroyer emerged. The concept was to equip the F-15 with the ability to shoot down spy satellites—an unorthodox mission for a fighter jet.
In the late 1970s, before the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) gained popularity, the Anti-Satellite mission, known as ASAT, was under consideration. The F-15’s ASAT role involved loading the aircraft with a single Ling-Temco-Vought ASM-135 ASAT missile. The missile consisted of three stages, including a Boeing AGM-69 short-range attack missile (SRAM) motor, Vought’s Aerospace Altair 3 rocket, and a homing vehicle guided by infrared technology. Initially, the ASM-135 ASAT did not have a warhead as its kinetic energy alone was sufficient to destroy the target. The ASAT missile was approximately 18 feet in length and weighed 2,700 pounds. The launch Eagle required additional equipment such as a back-up battery, a small computer system, and a datalink for guidance.
On September 13, 1985, an F-15A Eagle with the call sign ‘Celestial Eagle’ accomplished the first and only destruction of a satellite by an F-15. Major General Wilbert D. ‘Doug’ Pearson piloted the aircraft and successfully destroyed the Solwind P78-1 satellite, which had been launched by the US six years earlier. While the F-15’s ASAT role showed promise, it was not adopted for operational use, despite plans for equipping the 48th Fighter Intercept Squadron and the 318th FIS.
Due to a Soviet/US agreement regarding weapons testing in space, further ASAT missile testing was banned by Congress. Consequently, the ASAT program officially ended in 1986. ‘Celestial Eagle’ continued its service for 22 more years, eventually being assigned to the 125th Fighter Wing of the Florida Air National Guard. Major General ‘Doug’ Pearson was reunited with the aircraft on the 22nd anniversary of the mission, with his son, Captain Todd Pearson, flying it that day. In August 2010, the aircraft was finally retired and stored at the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base ‘boneyard.’