This week, Boeing’s F-15EX fighter jet successfully completed its first-ever test flight. It might look like the F-15 planes the Air Force has been flying for decades, but in a lot of ways, it’s a more modern fighter jet. It features fly-by-wire flight controls, an all-digital cockpit powered by an ADCP-II mission computer, and most important to the Air Force, a “digital backbone” that will allow it to upgrade it with new technologies as needed. Boeing will deliver the first two F-15EX planes to the Air Force by the end of March.
The F-15EX will replace the Air Force’s aging F-15C and D aircraft, many of which have been in service for more than 35 years. With some of those planes becoming safety risks to their pilots, the Air Force needed to either retrofit them or replace them with new ones. The Defense Department considered buying additional F-35 jets, but with the entire cost of that program expected to hit $1.5 trillion, it instead decided on the F-15EX as the more budget-conscious option. The first lot of eight aircraft will cost $1.2 billion, with the entire run of 144 planes expected to cost no more than $23 billion.