Home Air US Air Force’s new F-15EX Eagle II fires its first live missile

US Air Force’s new F-15EX Eagle II fires its first live missile

F-15EX first live fire
Eagle II firing the AIM-120D missile at a BQM-167 aerial target drone during exercise Combat Archer near Tyndall Air Force Base. Photo: US Air Force

The US Air Force’s newest fighter, the F-15EX Eagle II, successfully fired its first missile during a flight over the Gulf of Mexico last week.

The 40th Flight Test Squadron aircrew and aircraft fired the AIM-120D missile on January 25 while pursuing a BQM-167 aerial target drone as part of the 53rd Wing’s Combat Archer, an air-to-air weapons system evaluation program (WSEP).

During the flight, the F-15EX detected the drone using onboard sensors, acquired a weapons-quality track and launched the missile at the target. After tracking the missile’s release and flight toward the BQM-167, the shot was determined a WSEP success, at which point the missile flight was terminated.

The successful release marked the first weapon fired from the aircraft and another major milestone following more than six months of integrated developmental and operational flight testing for the shot.

The milestone followed Boeing’s official handover of the first airframe in March last year and the Eagle II’s first operational test mission at Nellis AFB in October last year.

“This was an end-to-end verification of the entire weapons system, which will pave the way for more complex missile shots in the future,” said Colton Myers, F-15EX test project manager with the Operational Flight Program Combined Test Force.

Not only was this the first F-15EX live fire, it was also the first missile shot for experimental test pilot Maj. Benjamin Naumann. A large part of Combat Archer is providing first-hand, live fire experience. Many pilots perform their first live fire at WSEP.

“I am humbled to have the opportunity to fire the first weapon, but the bigger success is the verification of the F-15EX capability to live-fire a missile,” said Naumann. “This shot is another important step towards fielding the aircraft to combat units.”

Photo: US Air Force

The missile shot is one of many milestones for the F-15EX test team at Eglin Air Force Base. Only two months after arrival, the F-15EX deployed to Northern Edge in Alaska. The Eagle II was pushed to its limits in the multi-service exercise and a significant amount of data was collected on the aircraft’s internal performance and how it performed with and against other aircraft.

“The fact that both aircraft were able to turn around from a streamlined acceptance period and immediately deploy to a major exercise is a testament to the maturity of this platform, as well as the expertise of the combined test team as a whole,” said Myers.

Following the deployment, the F-15EX underwent developmental flight and ground testing to include survivability testing in various electromagnetic environments. This series of tests lead to the discovery of and resolution of issues identified in the F-15EX’s Suite 9 software system, leading to a more mature and stable product, according to Myers.

“For a new platform, we’ve made an incredible amount of progress in a short period of time,” said Myers. “I don’t know of any other platform that has undergone such a rapid test program and it’s been incredible to be a part of the team that’s bringing this to reality.”

After the developmental testing, it was time for some operational testing in October. The aircraft deployed to Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada for another exercise focused on the air-to-air dominance mantle it will inherit from the F-15C. This exercise proved that while the platform still needs more development, it is completely capable of fulfilling its expected air dominance role, according to Myers.

Myers said the advancement of the program and the EX’s successes over the past 10 months are due to the integrated testing efforts by the 96th Test Wing and 53rd WG.

“The combined DT/OT strategy has been critical to our test success, allowing us to break the mold of ‘traditional’ testing, while ultimately resulting in an overall better product for the warfighter, and in a shorter timeline than if we adopted the traditional approach,” said Myers.