Boeing announced that the F-15QA, the most advanced version of the F-15 Eagle, performed successfully its first flight from the company’s plant at Lambert International Airport in St. Louis.
Chief Test Pilot Matt Giese started the flight test off in spectacular fashion with a so-called “Viking takeoff,” which involves climbing at an extremely high angle at full afterburner to rapidly gain altitude.
The flight, which lasted 90 minutes implemented a precise mission checklist to test the multirole aircraft’s capabilities and to check radar and avionics. According to the company the aircraft performed as planned.
In the press release, Boeing stated that the Eagle performed a Viking takeoff, the signature departure of F-15 flying from St. Louis (that, to be honest has often been referred to as a “high performance takeoff” or “unrestricted climb after take off” etc). The F-15 would start its takeoff run in full afterburner and, as soon as it reaches takeoff speed, pitch up its nose for a 70° to 90° climb to the upper flight levels before reaching the crossing runway, clearing this way the airspace for civilian aircraft departing or arriving on that mentioned runway.
“This successful first flight is an important step in providing the QEAF [Qatar Emiri Air Force] an aircraft with best-in-class range and payload,” Prat Kumar, a Boeing Vice President and the company’s F-15 program manager, said in a statement. “The advanced F-15QA not only offers game-changing capabilities, but is also built using advanced manufacturing processes which make the jet more efficient to manufacture. In the field, the F-15 costs half the cost per flight hour of similar fighter aircraft and delivers far more payload at far greater ranges. That’s success for the warfighter.”
Qatar signed a contract to buy 36 F-15QAs, via the U.S. military’s Foreign Military Sales program, in 2017. At the time, Bloomberg said the total price tag for the fighter jets, along with associated equipment and support services, was around $12 billion. In its press release regarding the first flight, Boeing said it had received $6.2 billion via a U.S. Department of Defense contract, but did not say if this was the total value of the sale.
Derived from the F-15SA, or “Saudi Advanced,” variant for Saudi Arabia, Boeing is billing the F-15QA as the most advanced production version of its F-15 Eagle series to date. The QAs have a number of features already found on the SA, including an integrated AN/AAS-42 Tiger Eyes infrared search and track (IRST) system, and two additional underwing pylons. Those extra pylons notably allow the jets to carry up to 16 AIM-120 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missiles (AMRAAM) at once.
The first flight of the F-15QA isn’t just a success for the QEAF, but a preview of things to come for the U.S. Air Force: According to Boeing, the investments in the F-15QA platform will directly inform the development of the F-15EX, the service’s first new F-15 in nearly two decades and “a domestic variant of the advanced” F-15QA.
The fiscal year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act that President Donald Trump signed into law in December provided the Air Force with $1.1 billion to procure up to eight F-15EX aircraft, including two prototypes, ahead of testing by the service.
The last year that Boeing produced an F-15 fighter for the Air Force was in 2004, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
In January, the Air Force issued a pair of pre-solicitations to procure both upgraded Boeing-made F-15EX fighters and fresh General Electric F110 jet engines associated with the new aircraft as as “a refresh to the [service’s] F-15C/D fleet and augment the F-15E fleet.”
According to Boeing, “future plans” could see the Air Force procure as many as 144 F-15EX aircraft in the coming years.