The Boeing F-15QA, to be delivered to Qatar in 2021, made its first flight in the skies of Saint Louis, Missouri. The most advanced version of the F-15 to date took off for a 90-minute demonstration flight above the ex-McDonnell Douglas facilities.
The F-15QA, specially developed for the Qatari Air Force (QEAF), demonstrated its maneuverability with a vertical take-off with afterburner, known as a “Viking” departure, and pulling 9G during the flight that followed.
The avionics and radar were also tested. “This successful first flight is an important step in providing the QEAF an aircraft with best-in-class range and payload,” said Prat Kumar, Boeing vice president, and F-15 program manager.
In 2017, the Qatari government ordered from the U.S. Department of Defense 36 F-15QAs for $6.2 billion and a subsequent contract in 2019 for pilot training. Another $1.1 billion deal was signed to build the facilities at the Qatari base from where the fighter will operate.
The F-15QA (for “Qatar Advanced”) features fly-by-wire controls, a digital cockpit, modernized sensors, radars, and electronic warfare capabilities. It is derived from the F-15SA that was designed for the Royal Saudi Air Force.
The improved fighter jet should serve as the basis for the domestic version that Boeing is to develop for the United States Air Force; the F-15EX. Eight fighters are to be assembled initially, with future plans for up to 144 aircraft. While the aging airframe is not up to par with the 5th generation fighter, it should eventually provide the USAF with a cheaper alternative to carry out missions of airspace and base defense. The order of the first two F-15EX was confirmed in January 2020.
In the last couple of years, Qatar has been an Eldorado for fighter jet manufacturers. In addition to the F-15QA, Qatar has also ordered 24 Eurofighter Typhoons for $6.7 billion and 36 Dassault Rafales for $7 billion. How the country of 2.8 million inhabitants will be able to man and maintain such a vast and varied fighter fleet remains to be seen.