In the skies above Eglin and along the Emerald Coast, 40th Flight Test Squadron aircrew flew a five-ship formation . This formation wasn’t just any grouping of test aircraft, it represented for the first and last time, all five fighters in the 96th Test Wing inventory. Included were the F-15EX Eagle II, the F-15E Strike Eagle, the F-15C Eagle, the F-16 Fighting Falcon and the A-10 Thunderbolt II. This was a very unique opportunity to have all the aircraft in the same place at the same time. The Eagle II only arrived in April 2021. The A-10, an Operational Test aircraft, here for three weeks of testing, stood in for the 40th FLTS Det 1’s aircraft. The F-15C model, which is being replaced by the F-15EX, will exit the squadron’s inventory in the near future.
“This formation represents much more than just the aircraft in it. It shows the platforms we have and continue to test and modernize, but also shows the importance of the integration required between platforms. This formation represents the core platforms used in the Air Force for weapons development. Most of our weapons in the past and future have started their careers on these jets,” said Lt. Col. Richard Turner, 40th FLTS commander.
“From a historical perspective, I think it’s a good image to capture the ‘changing of the guard’ in flight test from F-15C to F-15EX and the unique nature of test squadrons operating multiple aircraft,” said Col. Douglas Creviston, 96th Operations Group commander.
The history being made is that of fighter and weapon modernization across multiple aircraft. That only happens at the 40th FLTS and the 53rd Wing’s 85th Test and Evaluation Squadron. Each aircraft in the formation is part some type of test to upgrade that weapons system. The A-10 is here for smart weapons integration testing. The F-15 variants are each developing new enhancements to existing capabilities. The F-16s are undergoing a major modernization with new hardware and software upgrades, while all platforms are vetting future weapons to be used on current fifth and future sixth generation fighters. With that in mind, the 40th FLTS operations personnel scheduled the flights with a unit flight photographer aboard to capture the moment.
The 40th Flight Test Squadron is a United States Air Force unit. It is assigned to the 96th Operations Group, based at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. The 96th Test Wing is a United States Air Force unit assigned to the Air Force Test Center of Air Force Materiel Command at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. The wing was activated at Eglin in 1994 as the 96th Air Base Wing, the headquarters for all support units on Eglin, the largest installation in the Air Force. The 96th Test Wing performs developmental test and evaluation for Air Force weapons while also providing support for all other units on Eglin Air Force Base as the installation host wing. Eglin is the Department of Defense’s largest Air Force installation. Supported units include three wings, the Armament Systems Directorate, nine operating locations, five detachments and more than 25 associate units.