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And then there were two: Second F-15EX arrives at Eglin Air Force Base for testing

The F-15EX, the Air Force’s newest fighter aircraft, arrives to Eglin Air Force Base, Florida March 11, 2021. (U.S. Air Force photo by Samuel King Jr./Released)

 Well, that didn’t take long, did it?

Just five weeks after the first F-15EX Eagle II fighter jet touched down at Eglin Air Force Base — and less than two weeks after that F-15EX was officially unveiled to the public — the second of the new fighter aircraft arrived at the base.

F-15EX “002” was flown to Eglin on Tuesday by Maj. Aaron Eshkenazi, F-15EX operational test pilot with the 85th Test and Evaluation Squadron (85th TES), part of the Eglin-headquartered 53rd Wing.

The second F-15EX is now set for months of operational testing with the squadron before it is more widely fielded into military service. Operational testing involves placing an aircraft in a “combat relevant” environment to determine whether it performs as expected.

The first F-15EX, which touched down at the base March 11, is assigned to the 40th Flight Test Squadron, part of the Eglin-headquartered 96th Test Wing, the installation’s host unit.

F-15EX “001” was unveiled at an April 7 ceremony at the base, during which the new fighter jets were christened with the name “Eagle II.”

The 40th Flight Test Squadron is conducting developmental testing of the F-15EX. Developmental testing assesses an aircraft’s capabilities and limitations with the aim of improving its performance.

The work now proceeding with the first two F-15EX Eagle IIs marks the first time the Air Force simultaneously has conducted developmental and operational testing of an aircraft.

Col. Ryan Messer, the 53rd Wing’s commander, noted the integrated testing regimen in Tuesday’s comments on the arrival of the second F-15EX at Eglin AFB.

“The 53rd Wing is honored to welcome the second-ever F-15EX, and we are extremely proud that it displays the ‘OT’ tail flash (initials on the tail of the aircraft indicating its assignment for operational testing),” Messer said in a news release issued by the wing.

“However,” Messer continued, “that ‘OT’ represents more than just unit pride; it showcases the importance of early integration of operational and developmental test(ing) … .”

That integration, Messer added, is a direct link to national defense strategy, “which proclaims that ‘success no longer goes to the country that develops a new technology first, but rather to the one that better integrates it and adapts its way of fighting.’ “

According to the 53rd Wing news release, integrating both lines of testing “provides means for the F-15EX to get in the hands of the warfighter as soon as possible, while also ensuring … test rigor.”

The efficacy of that approach will soon get a practical test, as the F-15EX is slated to participate in Northern Edge 2021, a joint military exercise set for May 3-14 at several military installations, local airports and training areas around Alaska. Service members from the Air Force, Army, Navy and Marine Corps will participate in the exercise, which is sponsored by the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command and led by U.S. Pacific Air Forces.

Northern Edge 21 “provides high-end, realistic war fighter training, develops and improves joint interoperability and enhances the combat readiness of participating forces …,” according to a news release from Pacific Air Forces Public Affairs.

The F-15EX is the first new F-15 acquired by the Air Force since 2004. The first F-15 flew in 1972, but the F-15EX is a thoroughly modern aircraft with more weapons capabilities than earlier versions.

The F-15EX, a two-seat aircraft that can be flown by a single pilot, has an all-new digital cockpit, complete with fly-by-wire electronic flight controls along with modern radar and the world’s fastest mission computer. All of that means that the F-15EX can serve as a “test bed” for the insertion of military jet technology developed in the future, according to Boeing, the aerospace contractor manufacturing the jet.

The Air Force awarded Boeing a $1.2 billion contract in July of last year for the first lot of eight F-15EX aircraft. The six other jets in the first lot of F-15EX Eagle IIs are slated to begin arriving at Eglin for testing sometime after Oct. 1, the start of the new federal fiscal year.

Overall, Boeing could end up building as many as 144 of the fighter jets. Immediately beyond the eight test aircraft, the next groups of F-15EX fighter jets are scheduled for delivery beginning sometime in late 2024 or early 2025 to Kingsley Field Air National Guard Base and Portland Air National Guard Base in Oregon, according to the Air Force’s Air Combat Command.

The 173rd Wing at Kingsley Field will serve as the pilot and maintenance training school for the F-15EX. The 142nd Wing at Portland will be the first operational unit to fly the F-15EX, according to Air Combat Command.


(c) 2021 the Northwest Florida Daily News

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