Home Air Boeing officially hands over first F-15EX fighter to US Air Force

Boeing officially hands over first F-15EX fighter to US Air Force

First F-15EX at Eglin Air Force base
EX1 marked w/“ET” from the 96th TW’s, 40th Flight Test Sq arrived at Eglin Air Force Base on March 11. Photo: US Air Force

The US Air Force has officially accepted the first F-15EX fighter from Boeing in a March 10 ceremony at the company’s St. Louis facility.

The delivery of the heavily-upgraded F-15 follows the aircraft’s first flight in February this year. What is more, the first airframe was delivered a little under eight months after the first contract award to Boeing in July 2020.

The $1.2 billion covered the delivery of the first eight F-15EX fighter jets, including support and engineering costs.

Following its acceptance, the new aircraft was flown to Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. for testing. A second F-15EX will be delivered to Eglin by the end of April 2021.

The new fighter is a two-seat aircraft—though operable by a single pilot—with fly-by-wire flight controls, digital cockpit displays, and advanced avionics systems. It also the Eagle Passive/Active Warning and Survivability System, an electronic warfare upgrade that is also being fielded on F-15E models.

The Air Force plans to acquire 144 F-15EXs from Boeing, to replace F-15C/D models and refresh the F-15 fleet.

“This is a big moment for the Air Force,” said Col. Sean Dorey, F-15EX program manager with the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center’s Fighters and Advanced Aircraft Directorate. “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 5th-generation assets.”

Col. Dorey noted that the aircraft is capable of carrying hypersonic weapons, “giving it a niche role in future near-peer conflicts.”

At an average age of over 37 years, the F-15C/D fleet is fast approaching the end of its useful life and operating on the margins of structural integrity.

The air force says the F‑15EX provides a cost-effective and expedient solution to refresh the F‑15C/D fleet and augment the F-15E fleet to meet National Defense Strategy capability and capacity requirements. Even with the F-15E, the US Air Force resorted to creativity and struck a deal to recycle wings from Saudi Air Force F-15S fighters as part of its efforts to keep the F-15E in the air through 2040.

The process to acquire the F-15EX aircraft started in February of 2019, when Gen. David Goldfein, then Chief of Staff of the US Air Force signed the F-15EX Rapid Fielding Requirement Document to address readiness issues with an aging F-15 fleet. From there, the directorate’s F-15 Program Office developed the acquisition strategy, awarded the contract, conducted design and verification reviews, and worked with Boeing to manufacture and test the aircraft in record time.

“It has taken a team effort to get to this point,” added Dorey. “I’m extremely proud of the Team, to include members of the Propulsion Directorate, Simulators Program Office, Air Combat Command, Air National Guard, Air Force Materiel Command, Defense Contract Management Agency, the Air Staff, and our industry partners for achieving this first aircraft delivery milestone.”

“I commend the dedicated efforts of the entire team for bringing this platform online in record time and in the middle of a global pandemic,” said Gen. Arnold W. Bunch Jr., Commander of Air Force Materiel Command. “With its open mission systems architecture and weapons capacity, the F-15EX will provide an outstanding capability for our nation for years to come.”

The air force is poised to receive the remaining six Lot 1 aircraft in Fiscal Year 2023, when they will undergo operational testing.

To expedite the testing needed to declare the F-15EX ready for operations, the team will use previous testing data from F-15 foreign military sales variants and US-only subsystems and operational flight program software.

Aircraft in Lots 2 and 3 are on track for delivery in FY 2024 and FY 2025 to Kingsley Field and Portland Air National Guard Bases, both in Oregon.

Currently, the 173rd Wing at Kingsley Field serves as the F-15C/D training school and will assume the same role for the F-15EX. The 142nd Wing at Portland will be the first operational unit to fly the aircraft.