U.S. Air Force officially receives the first Boeing F-15EX fighter jet. According to a recent service news release, the aircraft will be the first Air Force aircraft to be tested and fielded from beginning to end through combined developmental and operational tests. The 40th Flight Test Squadron and the 85th Test and Evaluation Squadron personnel are responsible for testing the aircraft.
“It’s a special day for the base and our mission,” said Brig. Gen. Scott Cain, 96th Test Wing commander. “We’re very proud to be part of the next evolution of this historic aircraft. I look forward to seeing this unique test collaboration prepare the F-15EX for the warfighter.”
The aircraft bears its unit insignia. EX1 marked with “ET” from the 96th TW’s, 40th Flight Test Squadron. The EX2, arriving in April, will display the “OT” tail flash to represent the 53rd Wing’s 85th Test and Evaluation Squadron.
To support the combined test effort, both test squadron commanders ferried in the EX-1 together.
“Choosing to have the two commanders ferry the jet down was a concerted effort to reinforce the cooperation between DT and OT organizations and integration efforts,” said Lt. Col. Jacob Lindaman, 85th TES commander.
The aim of integrated testing is to ensure the EX is delivered to the warfighter as soon as possible, while ensuring the aircraft meets test objectives. This combination of Eglin’s testers allows the teams to identify any system issues early on, so they can be addressed before the F-15EX’s increased production and delivery to the squadrons.
The new fighter is a two-seat aircraft—though operable by a single pilot—with fly-by-wire flight controls, digital cockpit displays, and advanced avionics systems, to include the Eagle Passive/Active Warning and Survivability System, an electronic warfare upgrade also being fielded on F-15E models.
“This is a big moment for the Air Force,” said Col. Sean Dorey, F-15EX Program Manager with the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center’s Fighters and Advanced Aircraft Directorate, responsible for the acquisition, modernization, and sustainment of the aircraft. “With its large weapons capacity, digital backbone, and open architecture, the F-15EX will be a key element of our tactical fighter fleet and complement 5th-generation assets. In addition, it’s capable of carrying hypersonic weapons, giving it a niche role in future near-peer conflicts.”
The Air Force plans to acquire 144 F-15EXs from Boeing, to replace F-15C/D models and refresh the F-15 fleet.
At an average age of over 37 years, the F-15C/D fleet is fast approaching the end of its useful life and operating on the margins of structural integrity. The F‑15EX provides a cost-effective and expedient solution to refresh the F‑15C/D fleet and augment the F-15E fleet to meet National Defense Strategy capability and capacity requirements well into the 2040s, while preserving aircraft availability from significant impacts that service life extension and modernization programs would have on the F-15C/D fleet.
The process to acquire the F-15EX aircraft started in February of 2019, when Gen. David Goldfein, then Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force signed the F-15EX Rapid Fielding Requirement Document to address readiness issues with an aging F-15 fleet. From there, the directorate’s F-15 Program Office developed the acquisition strategy, awarded the contract, conducted design and verification reviews, and worked with Boeing to manufacture and test the aircraft in record time.
“It has taken a team effort to get to this point,” added Dorey. “I’m extremely proud of the Team, to include members of the Propulsion Directorate, Simulators Program Office, Air Combat Command, Air National Guard, Air Force Materiel Command, Defense Contract Management Agency, the Air Staff, and our industry partners for achieving this first aircraft delivery milestone.”
“I commend the dedicated efforts of the entire team for bringing this platform online in record time and in the middle of a global pandemic,” said Gen. Arnold W. Bunch Jr., Commander of Air Force Materiel Command. “With its open mission systems architecture and weapons capacity, the F-15EX will provide an outstanding capability for our nation for years to come.”
Following its acceptance, the new aircraft will be flown to Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. for testing. A second F-15EX will be delivered to Eglin by the end of April 2021.
The other six Lot 1 aircraft will be delivered to Eglin in Fiscal Year 2023 and will undergo operational testing.
To expedite the testing needed to declare the F-15EX ready for operations, the team will use previous testing data from F-15 foreign military sales variants and U.S.-only subsystems and Operational Flight Program software.
Aircraft in Lots 2 and 3 are on track for delivery in FY 2024 and FY 2025 to Kingsley Field and Portland Air National Guard Bases, both in Oregon.
Currently, the 173rd Wing at Kingsley Field serves as the F-15C/D training school and will assume the same role for the F-15EX. The 142nd Wing at Portland will be the first operational unit to fly the aircraft.