The first of up to 144 new Boeing F-15EX fighters for the USAF made its maiden flight at St Louis Lambert Field on February 3, some 49 years after the first F-15A first flew in 1972.
Painted in green and yellow primer, the aircraft performed a max rate ‘Viking’ departure over the field, before conducting a Mach 2 high speed run and slow speed high alpha handling in Boeing’s test airspace, and various tests of the aircraft’s radar, electronic warfare, and cockpit display systems.
The F-15EX is based on the ‘Advanced Eagle’ concept developed for the Saudi Arabian F-15SA and Qatari F-15QA programs. The original F-15A/B entered USAF service in 1975, and was developed into the F-15C/D of the 1980s, and the strike-optimised F-15E in the 1990s.
The Advanced Eagle was developed from the F-15E and follow-on foreign variants including South Korea’s F-15K, Singapore’s F-15SG, and the Israeli Defence Force F-15I.
The ultimate expression of the Eagle family Lineage, the F-15EX includes a digital fly-by-wire flight control system, the AN/APG-82(V) AESA radar, structural enhancements designed to provide a 20,000 hour service life, wide screen cockpit displays, two additional weapons stations, the advanced EPAWSS electronic warfare system, and an ADCP-II advanced mission computer.
The USAF has not bought a new F-15 since the final F-15E was delivered in 2001, instead focussing on ‘5th generation’ programs like the Lockheed Martin F-22 and F-35A. But with only 187 F-22s acquired from an initial requirement of more than 700 aircraft, F-15C numbers falling due to airframe fatigue, and F-35 deliveries delayed by development and concurrency issues, the Pentagon has leveraged the development work funded by Saudi and Qatari orders to bolster the USAF’s fighter ranks the advanced F-15 variant.
To this end, the USAF has ordered an initial eight F-15EXs of a requirement for 144 aircraft to replace F-15C/D fighters in service.
“Today’s successful flight proves the jet’s safety and readiness to join our nation’s fighter fleet,” Boeing vice president and F-15 program manager, Prat Kumar said in a company release. “Our workforce is excited to build a modern fighter aircraft for the USAF. 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.”
The two-seat F-15EX will provide far greater multi-role and strike capability developed from the F-15E than the air combat-optimised F-15C, including the ability to conduct manned-unmanned teaming (MUM-T) missions with future ‘loyal wingman’ unmanned combat aircraft.
While the F-15EX won’t offer the advances of the low-observable F-22 and F-35, it carries a massive load, shares many of the same advanced sensors and communications, and the training and maintenance infrastructure that is already in place for the F-15C/D/E can much more easily be leveraged to bring the newer version of the Eagle more quickly into service.