First F-15EX arrives at Eglin, seven more slated for Florida delivery this year

News


Jim Thompson

The Walton Sun, Santa Rosa Beach, Fla.

Mar. 13—EGLIN AFB — They’re gonna need a bigger hangar.

The first F-15EX, the Air Force’s newest fighter jet, touched down Thursday at Eglin Air Force Base. A second F-15EX is scheduled to arrive at Eglin next month, and six more of the aircraft are scheduled to come to the base sometime after October of next year.

The two-seat jets from the Boeing aerospace company, which can be flown by a single pilot, are coming to Eglin for combined rounds of developmental and operational testing, the initial phase of which is expected to run for 18 months.

Lt. Col. Richard “Tac” Turner, Commander, 40th Flight Test Squadron, and Lt. Col. Jacob “Duke” Lindaman, Commander, 85th Test & Evaluation Squadron, deliver the first F-15EX to its new home station, Eglin AFB, Florida, 11 March, 2021. The 40th FLTS will take possession of EX1 and the 85th TES will own EX2 upon its arrival, coming soon. Squadron aircrews and testers will work together to complete the combined developmental and operational testing simultaneously. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. John Raven)

Developmental testing assesses an aircraft’s capabilities and limitations to improve its performance. Operational testing involves placing an aircraft in a “combat relevant” environment to determine whether it performs as expected. Boeing personnel will train F-15EX aircrews, and an F-15EX flight simulator also will be available.

The upcoming work at Eglin represents the first time the Air Force has combined operational and developmental testing to more quickly get an aircraft to the squadrons that will fly it as the number of aircraft produced increases over time.

“It’s a special day for the base and our mission,” Brig. Gen. Scott Cain, commander of the 96th Test Wing, Eglin AFB’s host unit, said in a news release issued Thursday. “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 F-15EX that arrived Thursday is assigned to the 96th Wing’s 40th Flight Test Squadron. The jet arriving in April will be assigned to the Eglin-headquartered 53rd Wing’s 85th Test and Evaluation Squadron.

In recognition of the unique combined test effort to get the F-15EX certified for use, the commanders of both squadrons flew the first F-15EX — marked with the tail number “001” and with “40 FTS” to signify its squadron assignment — to Eglin from St. Louis Lambert International Airport, adjacent to a Boeing manufacturing facility.

“Choosing to have the two commanders ferry the jet down was a concerted effort to reinforce the cooperation between DT (developmental testing) and OT (operational testing) organizations and integration efforts,” Col. Jacob Lindaman, 85th TES commander, said in the Eglin news release.

“Combining these test capabilities on day one of flight test helps ensure F-15EX is ready to execute on air tasking order day one,” Lt. Col. Richard Turner, 40th Flight Test Squadron commander, said in the release. “We’re confident that along with our … partners running test management, we will provide that capability faster to the warfighter than ever before.”

Turner was at the controls as the first F-15EX made its way from St. Louis to Eglin.

The arrival of the first F-15EX came the day after the Air Force officially accepted the aircraft from Boeing.

“This is a big moment for the Air Force,” Col. Sean Dorey, F-15EX program manager with the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center’s Fighters and Advanced Aircraft Directorate, said as the F-15EX was turned over to the Air Force.

“With its large weapons capacity, digital backbone and open architecture (a computer capability designed for easy addition, upgrading or swapping of digital components), the F-15EX will be a key element of our tactical fighter fleet and complement 5th-generation assets,” Dorey added.

The F-15EX is the first new F-15 acquired by the Air Force since 2004. The first F-15 flew in 1972, but the F-15EX is a thoroughly modern aircraft with more weapons capabilities than earlier versions.

The F-15EX has an all-new digital cockpit, complete with fly-by-wire electronic flight controls, along with modern radar and the world’s fastest mission computer. All of that means that the F-15EX can serve as a “test bed” for the insertion of military jet technology developed in the future, according to Boeing.

Brig. Gen. Scott Cain, 96th Test Wing commander, watches as maintainers secure the F-15EX, the Air Force’s newest fighter aircraft, upon arrival to Eglin Air Force Base, Florida March 11. 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. (U.S. Air Force photo/Samuel King Jr.)

One thing that the F-15EX does not have is the stealth capabilities of the F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning II fighter jets more recently developed by the Air Force. That means that the F-15EX likely will have to remain outside enemy airspace until stealthier aircraft can deal with enemy defenses, according to a recent assessment in Air Force Magazine.

But, as noted by Dorey, the new fighter jet has the capability of carrying hypersonic weapons, next-generation missiles that can fly at multiple times the speed of sound. That capability, Dorey noted, will give the F-15EX a specialized role in any future conflicts with “near-peer” adversaries such as Russia and China, which also are moving into the hypersonics arena.

The Air Force awarded Boeing a $1.2 billion contract in July of last year for the first lot of eight F-15EX aircraft. Overall, Boeing could end up building as many as 144 of the fighter jets.

The next groups of F-15EX jets are scheduled for delivery beginning sometime in late 2024 or early 2025 to Kingsley Field Air National Guard Base and Portland Air National Guard Base in Oregon, according to the Air Force’s Air Combat Command.

The 173rd Wing at Kingsley Field will serve as the pilot and maintenance training school for the F-15EX.The 142nd Wing at Portland will be the first operational unit to fly the F-15EX, according to an Air Combat Command news release.

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