The U.S. Air Force’s newest fighter, the F-15EX Eagle II, successfully conducted a missile test, marking the first time a weapon was live fired from the aircraft, according to the service.
During the January 25 test over the Gulf of Mexico, the fighter’s onboard sensors detected a BQM-167 aerial target drone used in air-to-air weapons system evaluations, and acquired a track. A 335-pound AIM-120D missile was launched, and as it made its way toward the drone, “the shot was determined a [weapons system evaluation program] success, at which point the missile flight was terminated,” the Air Force said.
Billed as a replacement for an aging F-15 C/D fleet, the Air Force initially ordered eight F-15EX in 2020 in a buy valued at just over $1.1 billion. The first F-15EX fighters were delivered to the Air Force from Boeing last spring. The Air Force currently has two F-15EXs, according to Air Force Magazine.
The upgraded fighter may be flown by a single pilot, has an increased payload capacity, and is equipped with electronic flight controls, as well as advanced cockpit and mission systems. The Air Force is expected to buy up to 144 F-15EX aircraft.
Last week’s missile test was part of a new testing and fielding strategy for the service. The F-15EX is the first Air Force aircraft to be wholly tested and fielded through combined developmental and operational testing, the service said when unveiling it last March at Elgin Air Force Base in Florida.
“This was an end-to-end verification of the entire weapons system, which will pave the way for more complex missile shots in the future,” Colton Myers, F-15EX test project manager with the Operational Flight Program Combined Test Force, said in a statement Tuesday.
The missile test was an important step in the process of getting the aircraft to combat units, according to experimental test pilot Maj. Benjamin Naumann, who fired the shot.
“Ultimately, we’re a part of an iterative development process, validating expected results and providing feedback to the team on successes or things to improve,” Naumann said.
The Air Force’s fast tracking of the fighter through integrated testing is aimed at allowing testing teams to identify issues early on before Boeing increases production in preparation for delivery to air squadrons, according to the service.
“Combining these test capabilities on day one of flight test helps ensure F-15EX is ready to execute on air tasking order day one,” 40th Flight Test Squadron commander Lt. Col. Richard Turner said in March after flying the fighter to Elgin AFB.