The new Boeing F-15EX fighter jet completed its first on 2 February, paving the way for the early delivery of the first two jets to the U.S. Air Force later this quarter. The jet took off and landed from St. Louis Lambert International Airport, completing a 90-minute test flight before returning to the airport.
Boeing F-15 Chief Test Pilot Matt Giese checked out the multi-role jet’s avionics, advanced systems and software. A test team monitoring the data collected during the flight in real-time confirmed that the aircraft performed as planned.
“Today’s successful flight proves the jet’s safety and readiness to join our nation’s fighter fleet,” said Prat Kumar, Boeing vice president and F-15 program manager. “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.”
The fighter’s digital backbone means it can serve as a test-bed for future technology insertion, a key capability for the Air Force. Modern variants of the F-15 also include fly-by-wire flight controls, an all-new digital cockpit, modern AESA radar and the ADCP-II, the world's fastest mission computer. The F-15EX, the most advanced version to date, features the Eagle Passive/Active Warning and Survivability System electronic warfare system to improve mission effectiveness and survivability for operators.
In July 2020, the Air Force awarded Boeing a contract to build the first lot of eight jets. Future plans call for as many as 144 aircraft. Even though the F-15 first appeared in the mid-1970s, today's F-15 is a lot more advanced than the ones first delivered to the USAF in 1974.
The Eagles of today have stronger airframes, more powerful processors and advanced flight control systems than any the Air Force still flies, according to the Congressional Research Service (CRS). What's new to the F-15EX is an advanced radar and other subsystems that other countries' Eagles don't get. About 30% of the American F-15EX would be unique to the U.S. military.
There's a good reason other Air Forces around the world still fly F-15s, even without U.S. technology: they've never lost in combat. This is a pretty big deal, especially if the enemy isn't flying F-15s.
Upgrading F-15s also won't change operational strategy, as the older airframe is supposed to complement the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, not replace it. The F-35 enters enemy airspace to identify and engage targets, with superior stealth and sensor technology. F-35s carry weapons in an internal bay to maintain its radar stealth profile. Each F-15EX, in contrast, can carry nearly 30,000 pounds of air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons. The F-35 can only carry 5,700 pounds, according to F-35 manufacturer Lockheed-Martin.