'This ain't your grandma's Buick': Eglin rolls out new Boeing F-15EX fighter jet
EGLIN AFB — Three weeks ago, it got a home. And now, the new F-15EX fighter jet has a name: Eagle II.
The name for the new Boeing-produced jet, the first of which arrived last month at Eglin Air Force Base and the second of which is on its way, was announced as that first jet was officially unveiled Wednesday morning inside a base hangar.
And while the F-15EX is unmistakably part of the line of F-15 fighter jets that have been flying since 1972, it is a thoroughly modern aircraft.
"This ain't your grandma's Buick," Leanne Caret, president and CEO of Boeing Defense, Space and Security, a unit of the larger Boeing aerospace operation, said at Wednesday's unveiling.
Speaking to a crowd of dozens of military personnel, contractors and local civic and business leaders just before the dropping of a curtain and the flashing of lights that formally introduced the jet to the public, Caret assured them that the F-15EX "is a 21st-century fighter."
The two-seat Eagle II, which 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 the F-15EX can serve as a "test bed" for the insertion of military jet technology developed in the future, according to Boeing.
Also speaking Wednesday was base commander Brig. Gen. Scott Cain, who also commands the 96th Test Wing, Eglin's host unit. The 96th Test Wing will do the developmental testing of the F-15EX.
Cain recognized that the F-15 has been a "venerable workhorse for decades" and expressed confidence that the F-15EX will continue the F-15's legacy. He pronounced Eglin ready to usher in the newest iteration of the fighter jet.
Also on hand for Wednesday's unveiling was Air Force Lt. Gen. Duke Richardson, a Pentagon officer responsible for Air Force modernization programs like the F-15EX.
Marveling at the speed at which the F-15EX became a reality — nine months from the contract award as opposed to the more routine 39-month timeline — Richardson said the F-15EX "will be a key element of our tactical fighter fleet" in support of fifth-generation aircraft like F-35 fighter jet, which has a major presence at Eglin.
One thing that the F-15EX does not have is the stealth capabilities of the F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning II fighter jets more recently developed by the Air Force. That means that the F-15EX likely will have to remain outside enemy airspace until stealthier aircraft can deal with enemy defenses, according to a recent assessment in Air Force Magazine.
Also speaking at Wednesday's unveiling — he called the F-15EX "our guest of honor" — was Lt. Gen. Michael A. Loh, director of the Air National Guard.
The F-15EX will be fielded first to Air National Guard units, with delivery of the jets expected to begin in late 2024 or early 2025 to two Oregon installations, Kingsley Field Air National Guard Base and Portland Air National Guard Base, 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 an Air Combat Command news release.
"It's a great day to be an Air National Guard fighter pilot," said Loh.
Celebrating the earlier versions of the long-lived jet, Loh nonetheless recognized that those aircraft, some almost 40 years old, clearly are at the end of their life cycle.
"I have the utmost confidence that the F-15EX is poised and ready to continue that legacy for our nation," Loh said.
Following the unveiling, Cain and Col. Ryan Messer, commander of the 53rd Wing at Eglin, which will be doing the operational testing of the F-15EX, talked briefly about conducting both developmental and operational testing simultaneously, a first for the Air Force.
Developmental testing assesses an aircraft's capabilities and limitations to improve its performance. Operational testing involves placing an aircraft in a "combat relevant" environment to determine whether it performs as expected.
According to Cain, that dual approach has been used previously at Eglin, although not to the degree that it will be employed with the F-15EX.
"I'm fully confident in that approach," Cain said.
Messer was enthusiastic about the teamwork that the combining of the two testing regimens will bring, and he also noted that pursuing both types of testing simultaneously will get the F-15EX into the field more quickly.
An immediate goal for the testing programs, Messer and Cain said, is to get the Eagle unveiled Wednesday, and a second Eagle II involved in Northern Edge 21, a joint training exercises scheduled for May in Alaska.
But beyond any short-term goals, Cain said the F-15EX will enjoy a long tenure at Eglin, because it is designed to accept future technological developments within its existing airframe.
"It's a capability that we're going to use at Eglin for years," he said.
The initial phase of testing at Eglin is expected to run for 18 months, with the base expecting to receive a total of eight Eagle IIs. Delivery of the second Eagle II to Eglin is expected soon, with the remaining six aircraft slated to arrive sometime after October, the start of a new federal fiscal year.
The Air Force awarded Boeing a $1.2 billion contract in July of last year for that first lot of eight F-15EX aircraft. In all, the Air Force could purchase as many as 144 Eagle IIs.