Air-Minded: Son of Non-Starter (Updated 7/25/18)

See my earlier speculations on the possibility of new F-15s for the USAF:

The first post addressed three “legacy” fighter aircraft still in production for overseas customers (F/A-18, F-16, and F-15), and wondered if the US military might be talked into extending the lives of its own fleets by buying new ones. My specific interest was in the US Air Force’s F-15C, the aircraft I flew, small numbers of which are supplementing an even smaller F-22 fleet in the air-to-air role.

In the second post, I shared the news, reported in AeroSpace Daily in November 2015, that the USAF was actually considering buying new F-15s and/or F-16s. I never heard an outcome on that decision (and frankly doubt it was anything more than an aerospace industry pipe dream), but I will note that the US Navy bought into the concept: it’s buying new F/A-18 Super Hornets to extend the life of the current fleet and to supplement its planned F-35C fleet. With that success in mind, Boeing is now pitching a similar idea to the US Air Force: buy some new F-15s to replace the old F-15Cs currently serving in the air-to-air role.

F-15X with air-to-air load

The F-15 being pitched by Boeing is a notional model called the F-15X, based on the F-15E Strike Eagle, but with improvements that have been developed since the Mudhen was introduced in 1989 (in export models for Korea, Singapore, and Saudi Arabia). The artist’s concept, above, looks like an F-15SA, the model currently in production for the Saudis. Presumably it would add a lot of USAF-only extras to make it more fully compatible with our current F-22 and F-35 fighters.

The original single-seat F-15, the mid-1970s A model and the late-1970s C model which followed it (and is still in service), was dedicated to the air-to-air role. It had air-to-ground capability, but that was rarely used. The two-seat F-15E, introduced in 1989, was dedicated to the air-to-ground role, but could fly air-to-air as well. The new two-seaters, the ones currently in production for overseas customers, can easily fly a dedicated air-to-air mission for the USAF.

I don’t know what’s going to happen. Previously, any talk of buying new F-15s or F-16s was seen as a threat to the F-35 program, and I imagine that’s still the prevailing view at the Air Staff. The idea of buying more legacy aircraft as a hedge against a slower-that-expected F-35 buy makes sense to me, but obviously I’m biased in favor of a jet I flew and loved.

More to come, I’m sure, as this non-starter of an idea keeps trying to start up again!

Update (7/25/18): More information today on the F-15X and what’s behind it, per aviation correspondent Tyler Rogoway.

Exclusive: Unmasking The F-15X, Boeing’s F-15C/D Eagle Replacement Fighter

Screen Shot 2018-07-25 at 6.11.37 PM
Boeing F-15X

In November 2015, Aerospace Daily reported that the USAF was considering a new buy of F-15s to extend the life of the existing F-15C fleet and to supplement new fighters like the F-22 and F-35. I discounted this story. Then, last week, I passed on news that Boeing is pitching a new version of the F-15 to the USAF, the F-15X, as a replacement for the old F-15C fleet, now numbering around 230 aircraft.

More details are emerging. The USAF really did propose buying new F-15s in late 2015, and Boeing’s F-15X is a response to that proposal. These things take time, apparently.

The article at the link goes into great detail, but the one thing that immediately jumps out at me is that the F-15X is to be a single-seater, like the F-15C it is meant to replace. MacDonnell-Douglas (now Boeing) hasn’t built a single-seat F-15 since the last C model rolled off the line in the early 1980s. Since then, the factory in St Louis has built variants of the two-seat F-15E Strike Eagle for the export market. The return of single-seater Eagles, to my thoroughly biased mind, is huge.

I won’t try to duplicate the article. If you’re into Eagles, you’ll be fascinated by everything you read there. And there’s an outstanding video to go with it, which I will duplicate here, of Louisiana Air National Guard F-15Cs and Ds taking off from Naval Air Station New Orleans, refueling from a KC-135R tanker, joining up with two USAF F-35As, then flying around the Superdome in downtown NO before landing.

Am I excited? You bet your ass I am!

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