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 F-15EX first flight c Boeing

Source: Boeing

Boeing F-15EX first flight

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.