In less than a year, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., takes possession of the Air Force’s newest fighter, the F-15EX. Big plans and procedures are underway so developmental and operational testing can begin as soon as possible when EX1 and EX2 arrives in 2021.
The Operational Flight Program Combined Test Force will manage the DT and OT planning and provisioning for the aircraft. The 40th Flight Test Squadron will take possession of EX1 and the 85th Test and Evaluation Squadron will own EX2. Squadron aircrews and testers will work together to complete the combined DT and OT simultaneously.
“The time has come to upgrade the aging F-15C/D fleet and that presents itself in the form of F-15EX, the most advanced F-15 ever created,” said Maj. Brett Hughes, 40th FLTS lead F-15EX DT pilot. “This represents years of iterative design and battle proven technologies. The 40th FLTS, a squadron full of developmental testers, is ready to meet the challenge of testing America’s newest fighter.”
The F-15 has been a dominant and proven fighter since it entered service in 1976. Currently, there are late 70s F-15 models on Eglin’s ramp testing new aircraft capabilities with each flight.
This is a testament to the airframe design, avionics and maintenance working on the aircraft. The F-15EX will continue to ensure that air superiority for decades ahead, according to Maj. Aaron Eshkenazi, 85th TES F-15EX OT lead pilot.
Both pilots agreed the EX design has the future in mind. Although the new aircraft looks like an F-15, its digital flight controls, advanced cockpit touch displays, new sensors and advanced computer technology take this Eagle well beyond its older brethren.
These upgrades make the F-15EX extremely capable and rapidly adaptable to new weapons and technologies. The F-15EX also has the ability to carry over three times the weapons payload of an F-35, which will make its presence critical on the battlefield, according to Eshkenazi.
To maintain these fighter advancements, select Airmen from the 96th Maintenance Group will undergo familiarization classroom academics and transfer to hands-on training upon the aircraft’s arrival here. These newly qualified technicians will become the trainers for the maintenance group.
Coordination between the 96th MXG and multiple F-15EX affiliated agencies is ongoing to resolve any issues and ensure the unit is ready to support the new F-15 variant, according to Senior Master Sgt. Craig Krebsbach, 96th MXG F-15EX lead.
The aircrew will also receive Boeing training as well as an F-15EX simulator, expected to arrive this year. This will provide many of the pilots with their first hands-on experience with the new aircraft’s design.
The transition for aircrew and maintenance is much simpler since certain elements of the F-15 remain the same with the biggest differences being engines, flight controls and displays. The intent is for all of the squadrons’ aircrew to be F-15EX trained.
This is only the practical side of the preparations for the new aircraft. Engineering and program management personnel coordinated for the past year and a half to be ready.
“The combined Eglin team participated in hundreds of preparatory events in order to help guide the F-15EX program’s success,” said Lt. Col. Christopher Wee, OFP CTF director of operations.
The EXs will roll off the assembly line with ET and OT emblazoned on their tail flash. Then, the aircraft undergo functional flight checks before military aircrews are allowed to strap in and finally bring them to Eglin.
Upon arrival, the EX’s initial missions will be aircrew familiarization and local airspace flights. After that, aircrews begin test and evaluation of the aircraft’s Air Force-specific hardware, software and weapons. The EX build comes from F-15 models previously manufactured under foreign military sales contracts with other countries.
Initial testing will focus on ensuring the software and avionics systems integrate well with the aircraft’s features like the advanced cockpit and controls.
The goal of the integrated DT and OT is to ensure the EX meets the needs of the warfighter in its intended operational environment. This enables Eglin’s testers to highlight any system issues early, so they can be fixed before the F-15EX’s increased production and ultimate delivery to the squadrons. The initial phase of tests will take approximately a year and a half.
“This program is a once in a lifetime opportunity to test a new aircraft from the ground up and be a part of America’s future air dominance,” said Hughes.
The F-15 EX marks the third new Air Force aircraft assigned to Team Eglin in just two years. The HH-60W Jolly Green and the MH-139A Grey Wolf are also in developmental testing at the base.