The Air Force Finally Has the Keys to Its First New F-15 in Decades (2024)

  • The U.S. Air Force formally took possession of its first new F-15 Eagle fighter jet in nearly 20 years.
  • The F-15EX will serve as a test and evaluation aircraft as the Air Force continues to take ownership of even more jets.
  • The Air Force wants at least 200 F-15EX fighters to replace older F-15s.

The U.S. Air Force has finally received its first all-new F-15 Eagle fighter jet in 17 years. On March 11, the F-15EX flew from Boeing’s facility in St. Louis to Eglin Air Force Base in Florida alongside its two older siblings, the F-15C Eagle and F-15E Strike Eagle fighters. The new warplane will join a testing and evaluation squadron at Eglin.

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Lt. Col Richard “Tac” Turner, Commander, 40th Flight Test Squadron, and Lt. Col. Jacob “Duke” Lindaman, Commander, 85th Test and Evaluation Squadron, flew the F-15EX to Eglin.

The Air Force Finally Has the Keys to Its First New F-15 in Decades (1)

Left to right: F-15C Eagle, F-15E Strike Eagle, F-15EX.

Eglin is home to the 53rd and 96th Test Wings. The 53rd “is responsible for delivering safe and effective capabilities and tactics that enhance the Combat Air Force’s (CAF) lethality and survivability,” according to the Air Force, while the 96th describes itself as “a test and evaluation center for Air Force air-delivered weapons, navigation, and guidance systems.”

Both wings already operate the F-15 series of fighters. Together, the two wings will complete the F-15EX’s developmental and operational testing simultaneously, largely thanks to the wings’ familiarity with the F-15 platform.

The first F-15EX, known as EX1, will go to the 96th Test Wing’s 40th Flight Test Fighter Squadron. The second F-15EX, EX2, will go to the 53rd Wing’s 85th Test and Evaluation Squadron.

Both wings have access to the Eglin Test Range, a huge, 133,000-square-mile area covering the eastern third of the Gulf of Mexico from Florida's Panhandle to Keys. This gives the wings a unique, relatively empty swathe of airspace where they can test aircraft systems, munitions, command and control, computer network attack, radar target signatures, electronic countermeasures, and uncrewed aerial vehicles.

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The Air Force received its first F-15, an F-15A Eagle, in 1974, and took possession of its last F-15, a F-15E Strike Eagle, in 2004. The original F-15A is long out of service, but the Air Force currently operates 211 single-seat F-15Cs, 23 two-seat F-15Ds, and 218 F-15E twin-seat Strike Eagles.

The Air Force Finally Has the Keys to Its First New F-15 in Decades (6)

A F-15A Eagle on display at Andrews Air Force Base, 1985.

The Air Force wants as many as 200 F-15EXs to replace the aging F-15Cs, which have an average age of 35.44 years. An order of 200 new jets will be nearly enough to replace the -C model on a one-to-one basis. The -C model is a dedicated air superiority version, while the -EX is a dual-mode air-to-air and air-to-ground aircraft. Not only is the Air Force getting more modern aircraft, but the planes will also be able to tackle a whole new set of ground attack missions.

Although the Air Force hasn’t received a new F-15 in 17 years, orders from America’s allies, including Israel, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Singapore, have kept the assembly line humming. A steady stream of new customers has also kept the F-15 current with the latest technology; when the Pentagon finally decided to buy new F-15s, much of the work of integrating new sensors, weapons, and other capabilities was already complete thanks to recent overseas purchases.

The Air Force Finally Has the Keys to Its First New F-15 in Decades (7)

Foreign sales to countries such as South Korea have kept the F-15 platform current. Here, a Republic of Korea Air Force F-15K launches a German-made Taurus land attack cruise missile.

The F-15EX can carry nearly two dozen air-to-air missiles courtesy of new AMBER missile racks, air-to ground weapons such as the Paveway series of laser-guided bombs, and JDAM satellite-guided weapons.

The plane also has the ability to carry future hypersonic weapons and features a new AN/APG-82 radar, integrated electronic warfare suite, Eagle Passive/Active Warning and Survivability System, enhanced fly by wire controls, and an all-digital co*ckpit with flat screen displays and touch panels.

This new batch of F-15 fighters could easily serve for 35 years, which means the Eagle may become the longest continuously serving fighter of all time with a lifespan of an astonishing 82 years.

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Kyle Mizokami

Kyle Mizokami is a writer on defense and security issues and has been at Popular Mechanics since 2015. If it involves explosions or projectiles, he's generally in favor of it. Kyle’s articles have appeared at The Daily Beast, U.S. Naval Institute News, The Diplomat, Foreign Policy, Combat Aircraft Monthly, VICE News, and others. He lives in San Francisco.

The Air Force Finally Has the Keys to Its First New F-15 in Decades (2024)

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