Boeing has flown the US Air Force’s (USAF’s) F-15EX fighter for the first time.
The first example of the new combat aircraft went vertical in a “Viking” departure manoeuvre shortly after it lifted off from St. Louis Lambert International airport in Missouri on 2 February, says Boeing. The company plans to deliver the first two of the jets to the service later in the first quarter of 2021.
Boeing’s St. Louis facility manufactures all variants of the F-15, as well as the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet.
The initial 90-minute flight included a check out of the fighter’s avionics, mission systems and software, the company says. A ground team monitored data during the flight and the aircraft performed as planned, Boeing says.
The F-15EX is based on “Advanced” F-15 variants of the fighter, made for Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Those are the F-15QA (Qatar Advanced) and F-15SA (Saudi Advanced). It comes with a number of upgrades not featured on the USAF’s ageing F-15C/D fleet.
“The fighter’s digital backbone means it can serve as a testbed for future technology insertion, a key capability for the air force,” says Boeing. “Modern variants of the F-15 also include fly-by-wire flight controls, an all-new digital cockpit, modern AESA radar and the ADCP-II, the world’s fastest mission computer.”
The fighter also now comes with BAE Systems’ Eagle Passive Active Warning Survivability System, an electronic warfare system.
In 2020, the USAF awarded Boeing a $1.2 billion contract to manufacture the first lot of eight aircraft. The service’s programme of record calls for up to 144 examples, valued at around $23 billion.
The USAF decided to purchase the F-15EX due to its lower operating costs compared to Lockheed Martin’s F-35. It is also thought to be easier to add into the service’s fleet because of its similarities to the F-15C/D that it is replacing.
The programme is controversial within the Department of Defense as the fourth-generation F-15EX has a much higher radar cross-section compared to the F-35. Without that built-in stealthiness, the combat jet would need a lot of additional help, and could suffer casualities, if attempting to penetrate the sophisticated air defences of China or Russia.