US Air Force F-15EX Eagle II
US Air Force F-15EX Eagle II

US Air Force F-15EX Undergoes First Operational Test Mission at Nellis Air Force Base

The F-15EX is undergoing its first-ever operational test mission paired with F-15Cs and F-15Es at Nellis Air Force Base Oct. 18-25. There are currently two F-15EXes in existence. The Air Force accepted delivery of them at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, in March and April 2021. The platform is anticipated to join the F-35, F-16 and A-10 along with a sixth-generation fighter program as part of the four-plus-one concept intended to streamline the fleet. At Nellis, AFOTEC Detachment 6 is leading the initial operational test and evaluation of the F-15EX with units from Eglin and Nellis AFB, the Oregon and Florida National Guard and contractors. The plane has undergone a series of developmental tests to ensure the aircraft adheres to the required build specifications and safety standards. It has also conducted operational missions as part of Northern Edge in Alaska.

An F-15EX Eagle II Fighter Jet assigned to the 85th Test and Evaluation Squadron, Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, takes off and an F-15C Eagle assigned to the 123rd Fighter Squadron, Portland Air National Guard Base, Oregon, taxis to the runway at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, Oct. 20, 2021. Aircraft from Nellis AFB, Eglin AFB Florida, and the Oregon Air National Guard are providing support for the Test and Evaluation of the F-15EX in operationally realistic scenarios to determine how effective and suitable the aircraft is at accomplishing its air-to-air mission for future Air Force use. (U.S. Air Force photo by William R. Lewis)

“The main focus here is to provide the initial push for operational tests and evaluation to really evaluate the platform from an end-to-end perspective with the addition of a robust threat environment that we have here at Nellis. That way, when we write our initial test reports, we’re giving an accurate look to the Combat Air Force and the Guard as to what the platform is capable of when it initially fields,” said Colton Myers, F-15EX test project manager, Operational Flight Program Combined Test Force.

“We’ve never done full, large-scale operational tests with the F-15EX, because it’s only been in the U.S. Air Force’s hands for six months. ,” said Lt. Col. Kenneth Juhl, Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center F-15 tester. “The fact that we’re going this fast in operational test is definitely owning up to the Chief of Staff of the Air Force’s accelerate change or lose mentality.”

Three F-15C Eagle fighter jets assigned to the 123rd Fighter Squadron, Portland Air National Guard Base, Oregon, and both of the Air Force’s F-15EX aircraft from the 53rd Wing, Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, wait to take off for a mission at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, Oct. 20, 2021. The aircraft will conduct the Initial Operational Test and Evaluation from Oct. 18-25, 2021 (U.S. Air Force photo by William R. Lewis)

“The big thing we’re trying to take away is really showing the differences between the EX and the C model. A big improvement the EX has is that it’s a digital flight control system, so it’s a fly-by-wire aircraft, versus the traditional C model, which is a standard hydro mechanical aircraft completely controlled by the pilot, versus now a computer controlling the airplane, The EPAWS system is the next gen advanced electronic attacks as well as electronic protects system that the EX and Strike Eagles are currently testing and developing and hopefully fielding in the relatively near future. That’s going to give us the ability to essentially go into some of these more advanced threats or aerial denial kind of situations where we can now self-protect and self-jam our way through.” said Maj. Kevin Hand. Hand, an F-15EX experimental and operations test pilot with the Air National Guard-Air Force Reserve Test Center, is among a handful of pilots who will fly multiple day and night missions with defensive and offensive counter air while at Nellis.

The F-15EX Integrated Test & Evaluation 2021 Test Patch worn by Lt. Col Wes Turner during testing at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, Oct. 20, 2021. Turner will be conducting F-15EX Eagle II test and evaluation operations. (U.S. Air Force photo by William R. Lewis)

In addition to operationally testing the aircraft, the two-week event also involves testing the aircraft’s Eagle Passive Active Warning Survivability System. Nellis is the best place to do the operational testing because it offers the best air-to-air and surface-to-air training range and provides the highest fidelity data on the backend to be able to know whether the systems worked. The Nellis range complex offers that ability to be able to not only do an instant feedback of how the airplanes performed, but also pull back the data to be able to analyze it in very close detail, to make sure that that’s what was happening, or even better, to be able to find the problems that we had and use that data to find the fixes and then implement them as quickly as possible. Following the tests at Nellis, Myers said the planes will return to Eglin for more developmental tests. The U.S. Air Force anticipates the F-15EX will eventually participate in exercises like Red Flag-Nellis.

Two F-15E Strike Eagles and two F-15EX Eagle II aircraft assigned to 53rd Wing, Eglin Air Force Base, sit on the ramp at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada. The aircraft are at Nellis AFB to conduct Integrated Operational Test and Evaluation along with F-15C aircraft from the 123rd Fighter Squadron, Portland Air National Guard Base, Oregon. (U.S. Air Force photo by William R. Lewis)