Air-Minded: True Story, Fake Video

This is an older post, originally posted in March 2008, updated to correct some details I got wrong the first time around. —Paul

A friend sent me a link to this History Channel video, which has been circulating on the internet for several years:

He wanted to know if the video was for real … can an F-15 really land with one wing missing?

Sure it can. It’s been done. The incident the video’s built around occurred in 1983. The right wing of an Israeli Air Force F-15D Eagle was sheared off in a midair collision with an IAF A-4 Skyhawk. The pilot of the Skyhawk ejected; the crew of the crippled Eagle was able to land.

The F-15 pilot flew final at something like 300 knots (normal speed 150) and touched down at 250-260 knots (normal speed 120-130), in so doing proving that the F-15 flight control system really works! It helps that the entire underside of the F-15 fuselage is a flying surface. It also helps that the F-15 has three hydraulic systems and enormous horizontal stabs. No, one-winged flight isn’t impossible at all … but I’m glad it didn’t happen to me!

Almost everything in the video is bogus, though. The aerial shots consist of stock footage of US Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles, not F-15C and D model Eagles, the aircraft involved in the mishap flight. There’s a glimpse of an old F-100, apparently meant to stand in for the A-4 the F-15 pilot collided with. The only countries still flying the Hun in 1983 were Denmark and Taiwan. Couldn’t the History Channel find stock footage of a Skyhawk?

The cockpit shots are also borrowed, consisting of more USAF F-15E footage (that’s an F-15E stick, not an F-15C/D stick). Ditto the HUD videos. When, in the interview, the pilot describes firing a missile, the video cuts away to footage of an F-15 launching a missile. The pilot was on a training flight against other IAF aircraft and his missile shot was simulated, not real. I guess whoever put the video together couldn’t resist throwing in dramatic footage of an actual missile launch.

The shots of the guy in the back seat where you see something white streaming from where the wing should be? Faked. Also faked are the sequences of a one-wing F-15 flying and landing. I believe this was originally stock footage of an intact F-15 with the right wing photoshopped out and streaming white stuff photoshopped in. As far as I know there never was any video of the one-winged F-15 in flight.

This one’s real, at least.

The only thing I can verify as authentic are the still shots of the damaged IAF F-15 taken on the ground after it landed, because I saw those same photos when I was briefed on the midair shortly after the IAF concluded its investigation. Every other USAF F-15 pilot received the same briefing, and I think they’ll back me up when I say that there never was any video of the damaged jet flying or landing.

My best guess: the History Channel wanted to make a story out of the incident, but with only those post-midair still photos and the interview with the pilot, they didn’t have enough. They added the rest to jazz up the presentation.

Makes you wonder about some of the other “documentary footage” you see on TV.

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