Driving near Tyndall Air Force base in Florida many years ago, I had the surreal experience of travelling 60 miles an hour, parallel to the main runway, when an F-15 jet fighter suddenly rolled past me. It was momentarily pacing me just off my passenger side rearview mirror before it accelerated out and up into the sky. It had the effect on me of a UFO close encounter, because the plane had moved past me so quickly that the sound had not yet enveloped me when the dark grey form shot past me.
When I set out to write my novel, “High Ground,” to tell the story of Esther Brandt, an elderly woman who believes she is an electromagnetic hypersensitive, daughter of a reviled and long-dead 20th century robber-baron, and the unwitting victim of a 21st century robber-baron developing airborne laser weapons, I needed a way such a weapon might end up being tested so near her.
In the years since, I have done more research on electromagnetic radiation (EMR), EMR hypersensitives and EMR weapons than I ever intended, to make the threat Esther faced not only frightening, but plausible. There remain few aircraft capable of delivering a satellite-killing weapon high enough and fast enough. The venerable F-15 was the perfect fit. Tried, true, plentiful and capable of meeting the mission profile.
Imagine my surprise (well, not really) when my May copy of Smithsonian Air and Space
arrived this week with a satellite-killing F-15 article as the cover story.
While the various iterations of the new U.S. Joint Strike Fighter F-35’s and the stealthy F-22 Raptor (the majority of the fighters now being flown out of Tyndall, by the way) are getting all the press attention for finally deploying stealthier, more modern American air strength across the globe, it was the workhorse F-15 that was used to shoot a decommissioned satellite out of orbit in a live test firing.
It was expected that the newer F-22 and F-35 aircraft would send the F-15 and F-16 fighters to the boneyard by the end of this decade. With tight defense budgets and a variety of emerging threats today, F-15’s are instead being updated with new avionics and radar-absorbing paint on key surfaces to decrease the plane’s radar profile. They will be a mainstay of the Air Force for the foreseeable future.
Meanwhile, the F-15 is now routinely flown by the Massachusetts Air National Guard from Barnes Air Force Base, right near my home. And yes, I still stop and crane my neck to watch them pass.