Boeing flew the F-15QA for the first time on April 14. The aircraft is the first of 36 ordered by the Qatar Emiri Air Force (QEAF) in a $6.2 billion Foreign Military Sales contract placed with Boeing in 2017. Additionally, the company received a contract in 2019 for the training of F-15QA aircrew and maintenance technicians. The first aircraft is due for delivery in 2021.
Matt Giese, Boeing’s chief test pilot, was at the controls for the first sortie, which lasted for 90 miniutes. The F-15QA took off from the Boeing plant at St. Louis-Lambert International Airport and performed a “Viking” take-off, in which the aircraft was kept low after lift-off before pulling into a steep climb. Giese subsequently put the aircraft through a series of pre-planned maneuvers, reaching loads of 9g during some. Checks of the aircraft’s radar and avionics were also undertaken. The monitoring team confirmed that the aircraft performed as planned.
Although the basic F-15 design has been around for nearly five decades, the Eagle has been considerably improved in recent years through a string of important export sales. The QA is the latest iteration of this development path, and the most advanced. It is based on the F-15SA that is in production for Saudi Arabia, and has the same fly-by-wire flight control system introduced by the Saudi version. It also has Raytheon’s APG-63(V)3 AESA radar, Lockheed Martin AAS-42 Tiger Eyes infrared search and track system, a redesigned internal wing structure, and two additional wing hardpoints that allow it to carry up to 16 AIM-120 AMRAAM air-to-air missiles.
Where the F-15QA differs is that it is the first version to feature a new BAE Systems head-up display and a single wide-area cockpit display that replaces the multiple screens of previous variants. Boeing has also installed a new mission computer and a digital electronic warfare suite. These systems are likely to be included in the F-15EX for the U.S. Air Force, for which Boeing is expecting a sole-source order for an initial eight following the announcement of an intention to order the aircraft, issued by the Air Force in January. Possible USAF requirements could reach 144 aircraft, while Qatar could add another 36 F-15QAs to its order.
For Qatar the first flight of the F-15QA is a major milestone on its path to dramatically modernize and expand the QEAF’s airpower capabilities. The commander of the wing that will operate the QEAF’s Eagles, Colonel Ahmed Al Mansoori, said “We are very proud of this accomplishment and looking forward with great excitement to the continued successes of this program. This successful first flight is an important milestone that brings our squadrons one step closer to flying this incredible aircraft over the skies of Qatar.”
The Eagle purchase is one of three QEAF fighter procurement programs underway. Having signed for 24 Dassault Rafales in May 2015, Qatar added a further 12 in December 2017, with an option for 36 more. Following the first delivery in February 2019, the QEAF has now received 15 Rafales, and the first squadron is working up towards operational capability at the Tamim Air Base in western Qatar.
Meanwhile, the Eurofighter consortium, led by BAE Systems, is preparing to deliver the first Typhoon to the QEAF in 2022. Qatar ordered 24 in late 2017 in a deal that also included nine Hawk AJTs (advanced jet trainers). The Royal Air Force reformed its No. 12 (B) Squadron at Coningsby in July 2018 to become a joint UK/Qatari unit. The squadron received its first aircraft a year later, and with UK crews participated in Exercise Epic Skies III in Qatar in preparation for the arrival of the first Qatari personnel after their training in the UK. Last month the squadron began joint operations to prepare the Qatari Typhoon crews for the arrival of their first aircraft.