Everything You Need To Know About The Delivery Of The First F-15EX To The U.S. Air Force Last Week

The F-15EX, the Air Force’s newest fighter aircraft, arrives to Eglin Air Force Base, Florida March 11. (U.S. Air Force photo/Samuel King Jr.)

About a month after its first flight, the F-15EX arrived at Eglin Air Force Base escorted by its older siblings F-15C and F-15E.

The first F-15EX arrived at Eglin Air Force Base (Florida), escorted by its two older siblings, the F-15C Eagle and the F-15E Strike Eagle, on March 11, 2021, a day after the U.S. Air Force officially accepted the aircraft at Boeing’s St. Louis facility. The F-15EX is the first Eagle to be delivered to the Air Force in 17 years after being assessed as a cost-effective and expedient solution to refresh the F‑15C/D fleet and to augment the F-15E fleet.

As we already reported, the aircraft will be assigned to the 40th Flight Test Squadron, whose commander, Lt. Col. Richard Turner, personally delivered the new aircraft accompanied in the backseat by the 85th Test and Evaluation Squadron’s commander, Lt. Col. Jacob Lindaman.  “Choosing to have the two commanders ferry the jet down was a concerted effort to reinforce the cooperation between DT and OT organizations and integration efforts,” said Lt. Col. Lindaman.

“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, responsible for the acquisition, modernization, and sustainment of the aircraft. “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. In addition, it’s capable of carrying hypersonic weapons, giving it a niche role in future near-peer conflicts.”

While the 40th Flight Test Squadron took possession of EX1 for the developmental testing (DT), EX2 will be assigned to the 85th Test and Evaluation Squadron, which will be in charge of the operational testing (OT). EX2 is expected to be delivered to Eglin by the end of April 2021. The two units will work together to complete the combined developmental and operational testing simultaneously.

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 possetion 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)

The aim of integrated testing is to ensure the EX is delivered to the warfighter as soon as possible, while ensuring the aircraft meets test objectives. This combination of Eglin’s testers allows the teams to identify any system issues early on, so they can be addressed before the F-15EX’s increased production and delivery to the squadrons.

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

Upon delivery, the F-15EX’s initial missions will be aircrew familiarization and local airspace flights.  Only after that, aircrews begin test and evaluation of the aircraft’s Air Force-specific hardware, software and weapons. Initial testing will focus on ensuring the software and avionics systems integrate well with the aircraft’s features like the advanced cockpit and controls, as mentioned by the Air Force last year. To expedite the testing needed to declare the F-15EX ready for operations, the team at Eglin will use previous testing data from F-15 foreign military sales variants (like the F-15SA and F-15QA) and U.S.-only subsystems and Operational Flight Program software.

As already reported here at The Aviationist, the new F-15EX, developed from the F-15QA that was until now the most advanced Eagle variant, comes from a series of needs mainly emerged after the National Defense Strategy directed the U.S. armed services to adapt to the new threats from China and Russia. The aircraft, while extremely similar to the QA variant, features some US-only capabilities like the new AN/ALQ-250 Eagle Passive Active Warning Survivability System (EPAWSS) electronic warfare and electronic surveillance system and Open Mission Systems (OMS) architecture.

Lt. Col. Richard Turner, Commander, 40th Flight Test Squadron, and Lt. Col. Jacob Lindaman, Commander, 85th Test & Evaluation Squadron, deliver the first F-15EX to its new home station, Eglin AFB, Florida, 11 March, 2021. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. John McRell)

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. Initially the F-15C/D fleet was to be entirely replaced by the F-22A Raptor, the first 5th gen. fighter aircraft of the U.S. Air Force. The service planned to buy 750 Raptors to replace both the F-15 Eagle and the F-16 Fighting Falcon, but that number was cut to 187 production aircraft, which is also less than the about 230 F-15C/D still in service. Because of this, the operational life of the Eagle had to be extended as it was initially scheduled to be retired in 2019.

In 2019, the decision was made to allocate the funding for the first eight of at least 144 F-15EXs, as this would be a more practical solution than waiting for enough F-35s to be available to replace also the F-15C. The Air Force confirmed in fact this summer that the F-35 will replace some of the F-15C squadrons, while the other ones will be replaced by the F-15EX.

After the delivery of EX2 during the next month, the other six Lot 1 aircraft will be delivered to Eglin in 2023 for additional operational testing, while aircraft in Lots 2 and 3 are scheduled to be delivered in 2024 the 173rd Fighter Wing of the Oregon ANG, stationed at Kingsley Field, which will become the first F-15EX Formal Training Unit, and in 2025 to the 142nd Fighter Wing of the Oregon ANG, stationed in Portland, which will become the first F-15EX operational unit.

About Stefano D'Urso 271 Articles
Stefano D'Urso is a contributor for TheAviationist based in Lecce, Italy. He's a full-time engineering student and aspiring pilot. In his spare time he's also an amateur aviation photographer and flight simulation enthusiast.