I’m not sure what’s up with this Phoenix Driver patch. Patrick van Dam, who lives near the former Soesterberg Air Base in the Netherlands and is a frequent contributor to F-15 Eagle groups and forums on social media, says Boeing, back in 2019, asked him to redesign the classic Eagle Driver patch for the F-15 Eagle’s replacement, the F-15EX, and this is the result. He says the new patch has been approved by Boeing and is currently being worn by F-15EX pilots of the 40th Flight Test Squadron and the 85th Test & Evaluation Squadron at Eglin AFB, operators of the only two F-15EX aircraft so far delivered to the U.S. Air Force.
The original F-15 is officially named the Eagle, and that’s what its pilots call it. The F-15EX has an official name as well: the Eagle II. I’ve never heard it called the Phoenix, but wouldn’t be surprised to learn that’s what pilots are starting to call it. I mean, rising from the ashes of its predecessor and all? It fits. If so, the F-15EX Eagle II will join the F-16 Fighting Falcon, which everyone calls the Viper, on the list of fighters with two names — the official one and the one everyone actually uses.
As for the F-15EX itself, the Eagle II-slash-Phoenix, I’m less excited about it than I once was. Ten days ago, the USAF announced that new EX pilots will be trained at Seymour-Johnson AFB alongside pilots and WSOs learning to fly the two-seat air-to-ground F-15E Strike Eagle (unofficially called the Mudhen). This tells me the USAF is no longer eyeing the F-15EX as a replacement for soon-to-be retired air-to-air Eagles, but rather as an updated Mudhen, which itself is nearing retirement age. The Mudhen bubbas at SJ will treat the EX as an addition to the existing F-15E fleet and that’s what it’ll quickly become.
The pessimist in me predicts the new F-15EX aircraft will be folded into existing F-15E squadrons and primarily tasked with the air-to-ground mission, with air-to-air secondary, and that the Air National Guard air superiority F-15 Eagle units slated to receive F-15EX aircraft over the next couple of years will, if they ever get them, also change their primary mission to air-to-ground. Wanna bet?
Okay, I know, not everyone reading this knows the difference between the Eagle, Strike Eagle, and Eagle II. Here’s all three in a single photo:
The closest jet is an F-15C Eagle. It’s the last-produced version of the original mid-1970s Eagle. About 150 Eagles remain in service and are long past their planned sell-by dates. The Eagle is a single-seater, its mission to shoot down enemy aircraft in aerial combat.
The middle jet is an F-15E Strike Eagle, introduced in the late 1980s. It’s operated by a two-person crew, a pilot in front and a weapons system operator in back. It’s classified as a multi-role strike fighter, its primary mission to deliver bombs and smart munitions against ground targets. You’ll sometimes hear Eagles called “light greys,” Strike Eagles “dark greys.”
The farthest jet is the new F-15EX Eagle II, an upgraded Strike Eagle with air-to-air and air-to-ground improvements not yet invented when the E model was designed. It can do anything the Eagle can do. It can do anything the Strike Eagle can do. The USAF initially said the EX would replace the F-15 Eagle and fly its assigned air superiority mission, operated by a single pilot up front with an empty back seat. But as I speculate above, those plans may change. Why have a back seat if you’re not going to use it, right?
But hey, the Phoenix? I like it … don’t know if it’ll stick, though.