A F-15EX Eagle II fighter jet takes off from Eglin Air Force Base in Florida.

A F-15EX Eagle II fighter jet takes off from Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. ((U.S. Air Force))

The first operational F-15EX Eagle II fighter jets will be assigned to the 142nd Wing of the Oregon Air National Guard, the unit that intercepts hostile aircraft over the northwest United States, the Air Force said.

The initial instructor pilots from the Portland-based wing were at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida to fly training versions of the jet, which the Air Force said can exceed twice the speed of sound.

“The first two will arrive this summer,” said Lt. Col. Joel Thesing, the 142nd Wing’s safety officer who was among the pilots.

In St. Louis, the first F-15EX bound for the Oregon wing rolled off the Boeing assembly line earlier this month. The Air Force has slated 18 F-15EX to be operational at the 142nd Wing by the end of 2025.

Thesing said the exterior profile of the aircraft resembles the F-15C jets now flown by the wing, but the new jets are nimbler to maneuver and the large-area display for avionics improves a pilot’s ability to process what was going on inside and outside the aircraft.

“It’s a generational leap,” he said.

Boeing said in February the top speed for the F-15EX is 2,225 miles per hour – more than Mach 2.7 at sea level.

“Yeah, it’s fast,” Boeing’s Rob Novotny, a former Air Force F-15 test pilot, said in an interview with Aviation Week.

The Air Force said in budget documents released last week that it wants to acquire 144 F-15EXs eventually to replace aging F-15C/D models from the 1990s in the active-duty force and Air National Guard inventories.

The Air Force has focused most of its purchasing priority on the F-35A Lightning II multipurpose fighter, which also comes in a F-35B version for the Marines and a F-35C version to operate off Navy aircraft carriers. Congress approved buying 51 F-35A jets in the 2024 budget approved last week. Lawmakers are now debating the 2025 budget, which could add another 42 F-35s to the service.

Thesing said the F-35EX is well suited for the interdiction role of the 142nd Wing.

“I look forward to when the focus can shift from how to fly the EX to how to employ it tactically,” he said.

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Gary Warner covers the Pacific Northwest for Stars and Stripes. He’s reported from East Germany, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Britain, France and across the U.S. He has a master’s degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York.

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