F-15EX New-Generation Eagle Fighter Makes First Flight

 - February 3, 2021, 6:35 AM
F-15EX no. 1 performs a “Viking” take-off to kick-start the type’s test campaign. (Photo: Boeing)

Boeing has flown the first example of the new F-15EX Eagle fighter. The 90-minute flight on February 2 was conducted by F-15 chief test pilot Matt Giese from the company’s plant at Lambert Field in St. Louis, Missouri.

The sortie began with a “Viking” near-vertical climb-out, and went on to check out the aircraft’s new systems and software, with data being relayed in real-time to a test team on the ground. The aircraft performed as planned. The F-15EX’s first flight comes nearly five decades after the original F-15A Eagle took to the skies for the first time on July 27, 1972.

“Today’s successful flight proves the jet’s safety and readiness to join our nation’s fighter fleet,” said F-15 program manager Prat Kumar. “Our workforce is excited to build a modern fighter aircraft for the U.S. Air Force. Our customer can feel confident in its decision to invest in this platform that is capable of incorporating the latest advanced battle management systems, sensors, and weapons due to the jet’s digital airframe design and open mission systems architecture.”

F-15EX
As with recent Eagle first flights, that of the F-15EX was conducted by an aircraft still in its factory primer finish. (Video still: Boeing)

Powered by General Electric F110-GE-129 engines, the F-15EX has fly-by-wire controls, advanced structure wing, APG-82 AESA radar, expanded weapons-carrying capability, and the new EPAWSS electronic warfare system. The cockpit has the wide-area main display and low-profile head-up display fitted to the F-15QA Eagles currently in production for Qatar. It features the high-speed Advanced Display Core Processor II, and its open architecture allows new technology to be inserted for either operational use or testing for other types.

Boeing is currently on contract for eight F-15EXs, which were ordered in July 2020. The first machine, with serial 20-0001, was the first new aircraft to be ordered for the USAF in Fiscal Year 2020. It, and the second aircraft, are due to be delivered to the Air Force for testing later this quarter. Eglin AFB in Florida will be the primary test site, and expects to receive eight aircraft to complete its evaluation.

Ultimately the service has plans to acquire 144 F-15EXs, with another 12 slated for a contract in FY2021, with 76 to be acquired by FY2024. F-15EXs will replace aging F-15C/Ds that fly with Air National Guard units. The first two recipients have been announced in the form of the 173rd Fighter Wing (FW) at Klamath Falls in Oregon, which currently acts as the F-15C/D type conversion unit, and the 142nd FW, an operational unit at Portland, also in Oregon. Currently, F-15C/Ds also fly with the 104th FW (Westfield, Massachusetts), 144th FW (Fresno, California), and the 159th FW (New Orleans, Louisiana). More F-15EXs may be acquired subsequently, and it has been mooted that they could replace the F-15Es.

In the meantime, another sales opportunity for the F-15EX has opened up following formal approval for Boeing to offer the aircraft to India, which has a requirement for more advanced multi-role fighters following the purchase of 36 Dassault Rafales. The company has discussed the aircraft with the Indian Air Force and is promoting the type during this week’s Aero India trade show being held at Bengaluru. The F-15EX is competing with most of the world’s top fighter types, including an India-tailored version of the Lockheed Martin F-16 dubbed F-21.