Boeing's new F-15EX fighter completes first flight

Boeing’s new F-15EX multi-role fighter took to the skies for its highly-anticipated maiden flight on February 2 – ahead of the planned delivery of the first two aircraft to the USAF later this quarter.

The aircraft – serial 20-0001 – departed the company’s facility at St Louis Lambert International Airport in Missouri at approximately 1357hrs (Eastern Time, ET) and returned after completing a 90-minute test flight. The F-15EX was piloted by Boeing’s F-15 chief test pilot, Matt Giese, who checked the multi-role fighter’s avionics, software and advanced systems in flight. A test team on the ground monitored the aircraft’s flight data in real-time and confirmed that it had performed as planned.

As it launched from St Louis Lambert International Airport, the F-15EX performed a ‘Viking departure’, which is a trademark manoeuvre for fighters taking off from Boeing facilities. The move combines a short take-off roll with an immediate unrestricted climb, allowing the platform to clear the airspace quickly and to not interrupt the arrival or departure of civil aircraft into the airport.

F-15EX [Boeing/Eric Shindelbower]
The USAF's first Boeing F-15EX - serial 20-0001 - goes vertical as it conducts a 'Viking departure' from Boeing's facility at St Louis Lambert International Airport in Missouri on February 2, 2021. Boeing/Eric Shindelbower

Prat Kumar, Boeing vice president and F-15 programme manager, said: “Today’s successful flight proves the jet’s safety and readiness to join our nation’s fighter fleet. Our workforce is excited to build a modern fighter for the USAF.

“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,” he added.

Described by the company as the most advanced version of the F-15 family to date, the F-15EX features an all-new digital cockpit, fly-by-wire flight controls and Honeywell’s ADCP-II mission computer. It is also equipped with BAE Systems’ Eagle Passive/Active Warning and Survivability System (EPAWWS) for electronic warfare, as well as Raytheon Technologies’ AN/APG-82 active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar. The platform is powered by two GE Aviation F110-GE-129 afterburning turbofan engines.

The USAF is sourcing the F-15EX to replace the oldest examples of its ageing F-15C/D Eagle fleets. In July 2020, Boeing received a US$1.2bn contract to produce and deliver the first eight examples of the F-15EX to the air arm. This batch of aircraft will be fielded at Eglin Air Force Base (AFB), Florida, in support of testing efforts. The first two of this order are scheduled to be handed over to the USAF by the end of the first quarter of 2021.

Under the air force’s current plan, it will purchase 76 examples of the F-15EX over the next fives years through its Future Years Defense Program. However, future plans call for the procurement of least 144 aircraft. The USAF has requested funds to order the second batch of 12 F-15EXs as part of its Fiscal Year 2021 (FY21) budget, but that order has yet to be placed.