Introducing the 32,000-hour F-15

f-15 formation.jpgA Boeing F-15C is rated for a 9,000h service life. An F-15E was designed with an 8,000h rating, which the USAF has already extended to 12,000h. Both types are supposed to be retired from USAF service by around 2030.

Don’t bet on it.

With production of the Lockheed Martin F-22 capped at 187 fighters, and F-35 deliveries delayed and slowed, the US Air Force is investigating how much longer it can preserve the fleet of 414 F-15C/Ds fighters and F-15Es fighter-bombers.

The goals are to double the lifetime of the F-15C to 18,000h and quadruple the service life of the F-15E to 32,000h, Boeing told Flightglobal yesterday. At the 32,000h rating, the F-15E would essentially be in perpetual operational service — the Boeing B-52H of its era.

An F-15C has already entered a four-year cycle of fatigue testing, with an F-15E soon to follow. It was only four years ago that an F-15C disintegrated in flight due to a poorly manufactured longeron. The fatigue tests will discover if the airframe has any other hidden weaknesses that need to be fixed.

If the F-15 fleet is to serve for decades to come, its aging analogue systems will also need a refresh. The US Air Force has already funded a new digital core processor and an active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar. Now, the USAF is looking to upgrade the self-defence systems with an digital suite. The Eagle passive/active weapon survivability system (EPAWSS) could be launched in 2013.

The USAF still appears to have no interest in the stealthy aspects of the Boeing F-15 Silent Eagle concept, including the canted tails, radar absorbent material treatments and conformal weapons carriage.

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