The first F-15EX destined to the United States Air Force completed its initial flight in Saint Louis on February 2, 2021. The fighter jet took off and landed from St. Louis-Lambert International Airport.
It was announced in August 2020 that the 173rd Fighter Wing will begin transitioning as the F-15EX formal training unit in 2024.
“Being selected as the F-15EX formal training unit is an outstanding mission for the 173rd Fighter Wing,” said Col. Jeff Edwards, 173rd FW commander. “Kingsley is simply an outstanding place to train pilots. The community support is just incredible, and we have some of the best training airspace anywhere. We have a culture of fighter training—we have been in the training business for over 3 decades, in the F-4, F-16, F-15C, and now soon to be F-15EX”.
The latest iteration of the F-15 Eagle Mission Design Series, the F-15EX features an increased payload capacity, fly-by-wire controls, a digital cockpit, modernized sensors, radars, and electronic warfare capabilities.
Edwards notes the long service life of the F-15EX airframe–20,000 flight hours. “That’s a long time, about double the service the life of an F-15C,”said Edwards. “Not only is the airframe designed to last for a long time, the F-15EX also has an ‘Open Mission System’ which allows the computer and avionics software to be more adaptable and more easily updated in the future. This adaptability is key, as we know that technology is continuing to accelerate.”
When asked about what it was like watching the first F-15EX flight, Edwards says he was very impressed. “Of course, I’m a big fan of the Eagle, so it’s not difficult for me to get excited about seeing the first F-15EX flight! Seeing the F-15EX fly for the first time really left me thinking: ‘Wow! We are going to be flying that jet soon at Kingsley, and it’s going to be awesome!’”
Edwards adds that there is a lot to do as the unit prepares to accept the F-15EX aircraft in 2024. “We will be in a transition period over the next several years, as we train F-15C pilots while also preparing for F-15EX; while this will be a challenging time, we know that we’ve got a fantastic community supporting us and an outstanding team here at the 173rd Fighter Wing.”
That team is being led by Lt. Col. Nick Huet, the 173rd FW F-15EX conversion officer. “Ultimately, it’s very rewarding to have the opportunity to work on behalf of our Wing to help secure a long-lasting mission for Kingsley and all the folks that call this base home,” said Huet.
“Lt. Col. Huet is an outstanding planner, strategic thinker, and instructor pilot,” said Edwards. “As we transition to the F-15EX, it was important to select an officer who had a vision for where we needed to go to be ready for F-15EX—Lt. Col. Huet has that vision.”
Prior to this position, Huet has held many roles including Director of Operations, USAF Weapons School Graduate, F-22 Instructor Pilot, and an F-15C Instructor Pilot.
“I work with designated representatives from all groups within the wing and together we navigate the conversion process,” said Huet. “As the first base to receive the F-15EX, our conversion will set the standard for all bases to follow – my game plan is for Kingsley to establish a bed down model that no other wing will be able to match!”
During the first F-15EX flight, the aircraft was piloted by Matt Giese, chief test pilot of the Boeing F-15, who checked the avionics, advanced systems, and software.
Proving again that the “Eagle Drivers” come from a small community, Edwards and Giese go way back. “Matt and I were in the same cadet squadron at the Air Force Academy,” said Edwards. “It’s awesome to see him flying the F-15EX and being on the leading edge of the future of the Eagle.”
Two F-15EX fighters should be delivered to Eglin Air Force Base by the end of the first quarter of 2021. Eight pre-production aircraft were ordered in July 2020, to allow the military and the manufacturer to test and fully define their applications. The USAF plans to eventually acquire at least 144 F-15EX fighters.
“The F-15EX will secure the future of Kingsley for many more years,” adds Edwards.
View a video of the first F-15EX flight here courtesy of Boeing at https://youtu.be/kJEQse4Aq4Q