The first F-15EX destined to the United States Air Force (USAF) completed its maiden flight in Saint Louis, United States, on February 2, 2021. The fighter jet took off and landed from St. Louis-Lambert International Airport (STL), above the ex-McDonnell Douglas facilities. 

The aircraft was piloted by Matt Giese, chief test pilot of the Boeing F-15, who checked the avionics, advanced systems, and software of the F-15EX. Demonstrating the fighter’s maneuverability, Giese carried out a so-called “Viking takeoff”, meaning a near-vertical take-off with the use of the afterburner. The test proved successful, as the aircraft behaved as expected.

“Today’s successful flight proves the jet’s safety and readiness to join our nation’s fighter fleet,” commented Prat Kumar, Boeing vice president, and F-15 program manager. “Our workforce is excited to build a modern fighter aircraft for the U.S. Air Force.”

Two F-15EX fighters should be delivered 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 hopes to eventually acquire 144 F-15EX fighters. 

The latest iteration of the F-15 Eagle air superiority aircraft, the F-15EX features an increased payload capacity, fly-by-wire controls, a digital cockpit, modernized sensors, radars, and electronic warfare capabilities. While the aging airframe is not up to par with the 5th generation fighters, it should eventually provide the USAF with a cheaper alternative to carry out missions of airspace and base defense. 

On January 28, 2021, Boeing was cleared by the United States authorities to offer the F-15EX to India in the MRCA (multi-role combat aircraft) competition that the country is holding to pick a new backbone aircraft for the air force fighter fleet. The contract covers the acquisition of up to 114 fighter aircraft.