McDonnell Douglas Corp. ... The Eagle Soars
The merger of McDonnell and Douglas allowed each company to profit from its successful specialties. McDonnell, in fighters, began work in 1967 on the successor to the F-4 Phantom, the F-15 Eagle. The F-15 made its first flight in 1972 and entered service in 1974. It went on to shatter all existing records and fly with air forces in Israel, Japan, Saudi Arabia and South Korea. What distinguishes the Eagle from all other aircraft of its time is the power of its two engines; their thrust is greater than the weight of the fully loaded plane. It can climb straight up, accelerating to supersonic speeds. The latest version of the F-15 is the F-15E Strike Eagle dual-role fighter. It can perform air-to-ground as well as air-to-air missions in all weather conditions. By June 2004, the F-15 had a perfect combat record of 101 aerial victories and zero defeats.
Another successful fighter was the multi-role F/A-18 Hornet, ordered by the U.S. Navy in 1975 and built for both the Navy and the Marine Corps. The Hornet made its first flight in 1978 and entered operational service in 1983. The company built more than 1,200 Hornets, and in November 1986, the Navy's Blue Angels demonstration squadron replaced their Douglas A-4 Skyhawks with Hornets. Like the F-4 Phantom and the F-15 Eagle, the Hornet is an international aircraft, serving in the air arms of Canada, Australia, Spain, Kuwait, Finland, Switzerland and Malaysia. In 1995, the larger and more powerful F/A-18E/F Super Hornet made its first flight.
McDonnell Douglas also built two YC-15 prototypes for the Air Force's Advanced Medium Short Take-Off and Landing (STOL) Transport (AMST) program, competing with the Boeing YC-14. The YC-15s were wide-body aircraft for service on short, undeveloped airfields. The prototypes made their first flights in 1975 and flew for three years before the test program ended.
On the frontiers of space, Douglas converted one of its Saturn V third-stage (S-IVB) sections into Skylab, America's first space station, which was placed into orbit May 14, 1973. The section's internal fuel tanks had been converted into a spacious two-story orbital workshop for a three-person crew, with sleeping quarters and storage areas for food, water and other supplies.
After three successful missions, the last astronauts departed Skylab in February 1974. The abandoned space station re-entered Earth's atmosphere and burned up on July 11, 1979. A pioneering effort, Skylab provided invaluable information about how people are affected by long periods in space and about comets, the cosmos and solar flares.
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