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F-15EX undergoes operational test mission at Nellis AFB

An F-15EX Eagle II Fighter Jet

An F-15EX Eagle II Fighter Jet assigned to the 85th Test and Evaluation Squadron, Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, takes off and an F-15C Eagle assigned to the 123rd Fighter Squadron, Portland Air National Guard Base, Oregon, taxis to the runway at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, Oct. 20, 2021. Aircraft from Nellis AFB, Eglin AFB Florida, and the Oregon Air National Guard are providing support for the Test and Evaluation of the F-15EX in operationally realistic scenarios to determine how effective and suitable the aircraft is at accomplishing its air-to-air mission for future Air Force use. (U.S. Air Force photo by William R. Lewis)

An F-15EX Eagle II patch

Lt Col. Wes Turner assigned to the Air National Guard Air Force Reserve Command Test Center, F-15 Combined Test Force, Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, conducts a preflight inspection prior to a mission at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, Oct. 20, 2021. Turner will be conducting F-15EX Eagle II test and evaluation operations while at Nellis. (U.S. Air Force photo by William R. Lewis)

An F-15EX Eagle II Fighter Jet

Two F-15E Strike Eagles and two F-15EX Eagle II aircraft assigned to 53rd Wing, Eglin Air Force Base, sit on the ramp at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada. The aircraft are at Nellis AFB to conduct Integrated Operational Test and Evaluation along with F-15C aircraft from the 123rd Fighter Squadron, Portland Air National Guard Base, Oregon. (U.S. Air Force photo by William R. Lewis)

An F-15EX Eagle II Fighter Jet

Maj. Kevin Hand, F-15EX operational and experimental test pilot with the Air National Guard-Air Force Reserve Test Center, prepares to taxi out for a mission from Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, Oct. 20, 2021. Hand will be flying the F-15EX Eagle II for test and evaluation flights for the Air Force’s newest fighter jet. (U.S. Air Force photo by William R. Lewis)

An F-15EX Eagle II Fighter Jet

An F-15EX Eagle II Fighter Jet assigned to the 40th Flight Test Squadron, prepares for departure at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, Oct. 20, 2021. Both of the Air Force’s F-15EX aircraft assigned to Eglin AFB are at Nellis AFB to conduct test and training missions to determine how effective and suitable the aircraft is in its air-to-air mission. (U.S. Air Force photo by William R. Lewis)

An F-15EX Eagle II patch

Maj. Kevin Hand, F-15EX operational and experimental test pilot with the Air National Guard-Air Force Reserve Test Center, looks over the aircraft forms before a flight from Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, Oct. 20, 2021. Hand will be flying the F-15EX Eagle II to determine how effective and suitable the aircraft is at accomplishing its air-to-air mission. (U.S. Air Force photo by William R. Lewis)

An F-15EX Eagle II Fighter Jet

Three F-15C Eagle fighter jets assigned to the 123rd Fighter Squadron, Portland Air National Guard Base, Oregon, and both of the Air Force’s F-15EX aircraft from the 53rd Wing, Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, wait to take off for a mission at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, Oct. 20, 2021. The aircraft will conduct the Initial Operational Test and Evaluation from Oct. 18-25, 2021 (U.S. Air Force photo by William R. Lewis)

An F-15EX Eagle II patch

The F-15EX Integrated Test & Evaluation 2021 Test Patch worn by Lt. Col Wes Turner during testing at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, Oct. 20, 2021. Turner will be conducting F-15EX Eagle II test and evaluation operations. (U.S. Air Force photo by William R. Lewis)

An F-15EX Eagle II Fighter Jet

An F-15EX Eagle II Fighter Jet assigned to the 85th Test and Evaluation Squadron, Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, taxis out from Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, Oct. 20, 2021. The new F-15EX aircraft are at Nellis AFB to determine how effective and suitable the aircraft is for future Air Force use. (U.S. Air Force photo by William R. Lewis)

NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. --

The F-15EX is undergoing operational test missions paired with F-15Cs and F-15Es at Nellis Air Force Base Oct. 18-25.

"AFOTEC is excited to be coordinating full, large-scale operational tests with the F-15EX, especially because it’s only been in the U.S. Air Force’s hands for six months,” said Lt. Col. Kenneth Juhl, Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center F-15 test director. “The fact that we’re going this fast in operational test is definitely owning up to the Chief of Staff of the Air Force’s accelerate change or lose mentality.”

There are currently two F-15EX aircrafts in existence. The Air Force accepted delivery of them at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, in March and April 2021. The platform is anticipated to join the F-35, F-16 and A-10 along with a sixth-generation fighter program as part of the four-plus-one concept intended to streamline the fleet.

At Nellis, AFOTEC Detachment 6 is leading the integrated test and evaluation of the F-15EX with units from Eglin and Nellis AFB, the Oregon and Florida National Guard and contractors.

The plane has undergone a series of developmental tests to ensure the aircraft adheres to the required build specifications and safety standards. It has also conducted operational missions as part of Northern Edge in Alaska.

“The main focus here is to provide the initial push for operational test and evaluation, to really evaluate the platform from an end-to-end perspective, with the addition of a robust threat environment that we have here at Nellis. That way, when we write our initial test reports, we’re giving an accurate look to the Combat Air Force and the Air National Guard as to what the platform is capable of when it initially fields,” said Colton Myers, F-15EX test project manager, Operational Flight Program Combined Test Force.

Maj. Kevin Hand, an F-15EX experimental and operational test pilot with the Air National Guard-Air Force Reserve Test Center, is among a handful of pilots who will fly multiple day and night missions with defensive and offensive counter air while at Nellis.

“The big thing we’re trying to take away is really showing the differences between the EX and the C model,” said Hand.

“A big improvement the EX has is that it’s a digital flight control system. So it’s a fly-by-wire aircraft, versus the traditional C model, which is a standard hydro mechanical aircraft completely controlled by the pilot, versus now a computer controlling the airplane,” he said.

In addition to operationally testing the aircraft, the two-week event also involves testing the aircraft’s Eagle Passive Active Warning Survivability System.

“The EPAWSS system is the next-gen advanced electronic attack, as well as electronic protection system that the EX and Strike Eagles are currently testing and developing, and hopefully fielding in the relatively near future,” said Hand. “That’s going to give us the ability to go into these more advanced threats or aerial denial kind of situations where we can now self-protect and self-jam our way through.”

Juhl said Nellis is the best place to do the operational testing because it offers the best air-to-air and surface-to-air training range and provides the highest fidelity data on the backend to be able to know whether the systems worked.

“Oftentimes, we go out there as pilots, and we think that the airplane works as well as it should, but behind the scenes, we dig into some of the instrumentation, and it wasn’t exactly what we remembered,” he said. “Every so often, we need the instrumentation folks to help us out with what was really going on.

“The Nellis range complex offers that ability to be able to not only do an instant feedback of how the airplanes performed, but also pull back the data to be able to analyze it in very close detail, to make sure that that’s what was happening, or even better, to be able to find the problems that we had and use that data to find the fixes and then implement them as quickly as possible,” he added.

Following the tests at Nellis, Myers said the planes will return to Eglin for more developmental tests.

“We’ve been doing developmental tests for the last several months leading up to this event, which is more operational focus,” he said. “We’ll be transitioning back into developmental tests for the remainder of this year and going into next year, as we continue to test the additional capability of the platform, to include the additional weapon stations and additional Operational Flight Program upgrades.”

Following that, Juhl anticipates the F-15EX will eventually participate in exercises like Red Flag-Nellis.

“The more situations that we can put this airplane in the better information we learn. That integration is probably the key thing in the Air Force, to be able to get multiple different kinds of fighters to work together, to be a more formidable force,” said Juhl.