U.S. Air Force Receives First F-15EX Eagle Fighter

 - March 12, 2021, 4:47 AM
EX1—the Air Force’s first F-15EX—is conducting local pilot familiarization sorties from Eglin prior to the start of trials work. An external difference between the EX and other U.S. Air Force Eagle versions are the rounded-profile nozzles of the General Electric F110 turbofans, which had hitherto only powered export variants. (Photo: U.S. Air Force)

Boeing has formally handed over the first example of the F-15EX new-generation Eagle fighter to the U.S. Air Force. The acceptance was conducted at Boeing’s St. Louis factory on March 10, and comes shortly after the advanced Eagle variant’s first flight in February.

“This is a big moment for the Air Force,” said Colonel Sean Dorey, Air Force Life Cycle Management Center F-15EX program manager. “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 fifth-generation assets. In addition, it’s capable of carrying hypersonic weapons, giving it a niche role in future near-peer conflicts.”

On the following day the aircraft—known as “EX1”—was flown to its new home at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, to begin the Air Force’s test and evaluation program for the new version of the Eagle. The F-15EX is the first Air Force aircraft to undergo a combined developmental and operational test program, which is being managed by an Operational Flight Program Combined Test Force (OFP CTF).

The aim of combined testing is to field the aircraft as soon as possible. To further expedite the process, the team will draw on data from the testing of advanced F-15 foreign military sales variants, such as the F-15SA for Saudi Arabia and F-15QA for Qatar, as well as trials of U.S.-only sub-systems and Operational Flight Program software.

EX1 was ferried to Eglin by the commanders of the two Eglin squadrons that will perform the work, Lieutenant Colonel Richard Turner, commander of the 96th Wing’s 40th Flight Test Squadron (developmental test), and Lieutenant Colonel Jacob Lindaman, commander of the 53rd Wing’s 85th Test and Evaluation Squadron (operational test).

“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,” remarked Lindaman.

“Combining these test capabilities on day one of flight test helps ensure F-15EX is ready to execute on-air tasking order from day one,” said Turner. “We’re confident that, along with our OFP CTF partners running test management, we will provide that capability faster to the warfighter than ever before.”

The 40th FLTS is operating EX1 with its “ET” tail code, while EX2—expected to be delivered in April—will be assigned to the 85th TES and gain an “OT” tail code. The six remaining aircraft in Lot 1 production will also be allocated to the Eglin test fleet, and are due for delivery in FY2023.

The Air Force plans to procure 144 F-15EXs to replace the F-15C/Ds that mostly serve with the Air National Guard. With an average age of 37 years they are rapidly approaching the end of their useful lives. F-15EXs from production lots 2 and 3 are earmarked for delivery in FY 2024/25 to two squadrons within the Oregon Air National Guard: the 173rd Fighter Wing at Kingsley Field, which currently serves as the F-15C/D schoolhouse and will perform the same role for the F-15EX, and the 142nd Fighter Wing, an operational unit based at Portland.

A 40th FLTS formation is led by the first F-15EX, flying with examples of the U.S. Air Force’s other Eagle models, the F-15C and F-15E. (Photo: U.S. Air Force)