The complex cockpit of an F-15 fighter jet

If you think computer-assisted and computer-display modern cars are complicated (I do; I have a low-tech 2000 Honda), then you’re going to be blown away by this new 14-minute video about now the McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle jet fighter is controlled.  Col. Themely, who has flown these things in extenso, tells us what all the buttons are displays are for, though some of the displays aren’t activated because they’re classified. The amount of redundancy and safety features is impressive. Though the plane has been around since 1967, with continual upgrades, it remains a marvel of human ingenuity. And remember, every bit of this plane was made out of material wrested from the Earth, and designed by a mess of neurons in our heads.

Now guess what all this costs? After you’ve watched the video, click below the fold to find out, but guess first.  Oh, and the top speech is Mach 2.7, or 2071 miles per hour (3346 km/hr).

Today Ars Technica brings you inside the pilot’s seat of an F-15C Eagle fighter jet to break down every button in the cockpit. Join retired United States Air Force pilot Col. Andrea Themely as she walks you through everything at your disposal, from emergency features and communication controls to navigation features and weapons and defense. With 1100 hours of experience piloting F-15’s, Col. Themely expert eye is ready to guide you each step of the way.

Click “read more” to see what one of these bad boys costs.

The F-15 cost close to $30 million, but that was in 1998. It appears to cost more than $65 million now.


  1. Randall Schenck
    Posted July 19, 2020 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

    Well, $30 million is a real bargain. If I recall, the airplane I worked on in the Air Force cost less than a million. The F-100. It is interesting to know that the F-15 has many of the same things the old F-100 had on them. Such as a tail hook and many of the systems as she described. You would never see an F-100 landing on an aircraft carrier so the hook was for the same reason she explained. The F-15 also had three hydraulic systems as did the F-100.

    I think they are still using F-15s at the Base where I was stationed way back in 1969-72. However, I believe they are going to get F-35s soon.

    • Nicolaas Stempels
      Posted July 19, 2020 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

      That F-35, isn’t that a very expensive duck?
      It is multipurpose, and as a result, some say, it is good at nothing.
      Most of my army friends say they would rather have an A-10 (aka Warthog) than an F-35 for CAS.

      • Posted July 19, 2020 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

        On line I see reports of the F35 being $85-115m, depending on configuration and generation of the aircraft.

        • Randall Schenck
          Posted July 19, 2020 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

          Yes, I think the price of any modern fighter jet today is beyond comprehension. Cost so much even they don’t know. And just imagine how much the maintenance and upkeep might cost. On the plane I worked on they use to say 30 hours of maintenance for 1 hour of flying.

          • Randall Schenck
            Posted July 19, 2020 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

            Another little joke was – If the paperwork outweighed the plane it was ready to fly.

  2. Diana MacPherson
    Posted July 19, 2020 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

    If I got as angry at an airplane as I do with my computer I’d probably crash it in a week in some big argument with it.

  3. Posted July 19, 2020 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

    Cool video, thanks for posting.

  4. Posted July 19, 2020 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

    For someone like me who has trouble with the tv remote, this would be a problem.

  5. Posted July 19, 2020 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

    Very impressive! About the ingenuity of our brains, I saw a post online that commented on how the brain is the only organ that named itself.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted July 19, 2020 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

      Only the part that can talk named itself.

  6. Posted July 19, 2020 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

    Now I’m really looking forward to the upcoming release of Microsoft Flight Simulator. It’s incredibly realistic. Check out this video:

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted July 19, 2020 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

      The best part of that film was at the first when the J-3 took off. At one time, long ago I use to fly one of those.

      • Posted July 19, 2020 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

        I liked the little details. Did you notice that the wings of the 747 (I think) flexed as it crossed some bumpy virtual air?

        • Randall Schenck
          Posted July 19, 2020 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

          They make it just like the real thing. I can remember sitting in the rear of these larger commercial jets and feel it wallowing back and forth.

    • Posted July 19, 2020 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

      That looks cool, but aerial combat games are terrific fun.

  7. fishnet123
    Posted July 19, 2020 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

    Wonder how much the Saudis pay for them?

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted July 19, 2020 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

      The price to the Saudis includes a pass to dismember an American journalist.

      • Randall Schenck
        Posted July 19, 2020 at 6:11 pm | Permalink

        I think they got unlimited oil changes…

  8. Ken Kukec
    Posted July 19, 2020 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

    Dang, 104 victories to zero losses. Even the great heavyweight champ Rocky Marciano was only 49-0.

    • Posted July 19, 2020 at 10:07 pm | Permalink

      This is remarkable. Raises the question…what country could actually compete with the US in a conventional battle for air superiority? Russians? Joint European forces? The Chinese?

  9. davelenny
    Posted July 19, 2020 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

    That was fascinating and a bit overwhelming for me – I find my 2013 Honda’s dashboard a bit too much.

    One query – is the F-15 really a 2071mph aircraft? It was designed with a large wing as a high manoeuvrability air superiority fighter. These are typically limited by their construction to 1650mph/Mach 2.5, whereas the very few faster aircraft – SR-71, Mig-25/30 – require different construction which is either heavy or very expensive and come with relatively small wings unsuitable for fighter combat manoeuvres.

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted July 19, 2020 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

      I think you might be correct, not sure. Usually, that top speed is done with an absolutely clean airplane, nothing external on it and at high altitude. The F-100 was our first mach one jet fighter but I’m sure it was clean of all external items and maybe a little down hill.

    • darrelle
      Posted July 19, 2020 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

      If that speed is accurate it is likely a record under special circumstances. The top speed usually cited is 1,875 mph. The F-15 is indeed very fast. One of its original primary design requirements was interception, which in that era meant specifically intercepting Soviet bombers before they could get close enough to launch their weapons. Given detection limits and weapons performance of that era that meant a very fast plane was needed. The Soviets saw the same need and also built planes for that roll.

      But there are a couple of caveats to those very high speeds. One is that it is only capable of those high speeds when in a very clean configuration and only for a few minutes. This is true of all fighter aircraft. There are a very few modern aircraft, like the F-22 and the F-35 that can supercruise, meaning they can sustain mach speeds for relatively long periods of time, something like mach 1.3.

      But really, the only reason newer generation fighters aren’t faster, or even as fast, as the F-15 and other fighters of that generation is because those high top speeds are no longer deemed necessary. Fighters spend 99% of their time flying subsonic. Due to modern sensor capabilities and weapons performance those very high sprint speeds are now considered unnecessary. During combat with other fighters, dog-fighting, they are well below mach speeds. Otherwise they wouldn’t be able to maneuver. “Slower” modern fighters like the F-22 and F-35 are every bit as powerful as the F-15 and other faster top speed fighters of that era, often more powerful. The engine in the F-35 is the most powerful jet engine ever in a fighter aircraft to date, by a good bit. But the plane’s top speed is much lower simply because it was not designed to go any faster, other flight characteristics are deemed more important than mach 2.5 plus sprint speeds these days.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted July 20, 2020 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

        That’s ok, Canada would intercept the Russians with our cf-18 hornets. Though during 9/11 when we scrambled our jets, there was some panic on the US side of the border and the US aircraft had to be told those were Canadian and the good guys so don’t cross the birder into Canada a s don’t fire on them.

  10. Posted July 19, 2020 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

    I worked on F4s, made by the same company, and much of this is familiar. Interesting video.

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted July 19, 2020 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

      Were you a crew chief or something else?

      • Posted July 19, 2020 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

        I was a radar/weapons systems tech.

        • Randall Schenck
          Posted July 19, 2020 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

          Where were you stationed. I’m assuming you were a one term guy like me. I was stationed at Lakenheath AFB, England. We were the last active wing of F-100s and were replacing them with F4s when I left.

          • Posted July 20, 2020 at 6:59 am | Permalink

            Mostly RAF Leuchars with stints in Cyprus & RAF Stanley. Served on 23 & 43 Squadrons as well as the maintenance hanger and electronic workshops at Leuchars. 1980 – 90.

            It’s interesting how much the F15 cockpit is like that of the F4 which preceded it. And how different it is to the Tornado F3 which I also worked on later with the RSAF. This particular F15 is, I think, quite an old mark.

  11. jezgrove
    Posted July 19, 2020 at 5:50 pm | Permalink

    I was expecting something more like the endless panoramic shot of the aircraft control panel in Airplane!.

    • jezgrove
      Posted July 19, 2020 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

      I don’t believe it – now autocorrect is screwing up my punctuation by adding unnecessary periods/full stops.

      • Posted July 19, 2020 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

        I’ve turned it off. I am responsible for anything that is worng.

      • Posted July 20, 2020 at 4:01 am | Permalink

        Interesting problem. The exclamation mark in Airplane! is part of the title. Is it therefore correct to put a full stop after Airplane!?

        I suspect actually, your autocorrect was confused by the <i> that you used to italicise Airplane![.]

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted July 20, 2020 at 5:43 pm | Permalink

        Oh autocorrect will duck you up 🤣

  12. Kevin
    Posted July 19, 2020 at 6:23 pm | Permalink

    I was offered a job some years ago programming the cloche (joystick) for Agusta helicopters/flight emulators in northern Italy.
    It would have been interesting from a technical point of view but I turned it down for a number of misgivings.
    Not least: their British company partner (Westland) and the British government had recently been involved in a clandestine arms sales scandal which came close to bringing down the government (Thatcher).

  13. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted July 19, 2020 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

    And now we go for autonomous planes and cars.

    Not a one-one comparison due to differences in tasks and g forces, the SpaceX Crew Dragon is a nice example of the last fraction of error-prone human control that pilots may ask for. The simple cockpit of a modern spacecraft: .

  14. Mark R.
    Posted July 19, 2020 at 9:16 pm | Permalink

    I have a friend Lt. Col. in the Airforce and a few years back he invited me to a C-17 simulator at McChord AFB. It was far out…like a Disneyland set. This C-17 fuselage was just hanging in a huge dome, attached to dozens of hydraulic machines. Once inside, I was positioned in a “radio operator’s” chair. There were pilot, co-pilot and relief, me and an “instructor”. The instructor was in charge of trying to fuck up the crew with random computerized airborne mishaps. He created cargo that caught fire, incoming unknown bogies, bad fog that resulted in close high mountains. In short, it was intense! The front “window” was an LCD screen that gave a pretty good representation (video game like) of what was ahead. I loved it and at the same time (even knowing it was completely safe) I was scarred shitless; at times it was just like a roller coaster ride and I had sweaty palms throughout. I learned MUCH respect for what these pilots do after that experience. At times of craziness, they were switching controls faster than I could track. Mind boggling to me. And the redundancy was impressive as well. All controls were redundant some more than others. It was an experience I was lucky to enjoy.

    • darrelle
      Posted July 20, 2020 at 7:05 am | Permalink

      Lucky you!

  15. David Harper
    Posted July 20, 2020 at 8:00 am | Permalink

    It’s an impressive piece of machinery, and we occasionally see (or, more often, hear) them flying low and fast on training sorties. The USAF base at Lakenheath is just a few miles away from our home near Cambridge.

    We also see and hear Spitfires from the Imperial War Museum at Duxford. Call me old-fashioned, but the roar of a Merlin engine and the elegant elliptical wing outline of a Spitfire move me far more than sixty million dollars of high-tech warbird ever could. And if you gave me the choice between a flight in a Spitfire or a flight in an F-15, the Spitfire would win hands down.

    • Kevin
      Posted July 20, 2020 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

      @David Harper
      The last remaining flying Lancaster bomber flew low over our house near Liverpool a year or more ago on the way to RAF display in North Wales. Couldn’t believe it. The sound of the engines is amazing.
      My father saw it too: he’s now 92 and remembers the dogfight’s around London. Was close enough to feel the pressure blast of a V2 exploding above ground when he was sixteen.
      His older cousin was old enough to qualify as seargent pilot and was unfortunately killed.
      Me Dad spent his national service repairing gyroscopes and bomb sights then became a lab technician/research assistant working on vaccine production. The polio epidemic in the 1950’s.
      Then Glaxo shifted the family to Liverpool in 1970.
      And that’s how we came to see the Lancaster fifty years later.

      • Posted July 20, 2020 at 6:23 pm | Permalink

        Seeing and hearing flying machines from that era is quite the experience. I got to see a B-17 Flying Fortress following the beach in Southern California when I was out riding my bike probably 10 years ago. I assume it was travelling between air shows. Amazing!

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted July 20, 2020 at 6:28 pm | Permalink

        We have a Lancaster bomber in Canada in Hamilton, ON. It flew over the city and to Toronto and Niagara on Canada Day a few weeks ago. If you visit, you can have a flight. WWII vets, as few as they are becoming, often come for the nostalgia of it. Some were made in Canada and this is one of the few flying Lancasters in the world and the only place you can go on a flight. It actually scares me whenever I see it as it seems like it just isn’t going to stay up there.

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