The Israel Air Force closely followed the maiden flight of the F-15 Silent Eagle, which took to the skies over the weekend in the US. Debate continued within the Defense Ministry over whether it should buy the aircraft in the face of expected additional delays in the development of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

The flight took place over St. Louis, headquarters of the plane’s developer, Boeing Co.

During the 80-minute flight, the plane, called the F-15E1, opened and closed its left-side conformal weapons bay, which contained an AIM-120 Instrumented Test Vehicle (ITV) missile that was not launched.

“The Silent Eagle demonstration flight validated our initial engineering design approach,” said Boeing F-15 Development Programs Director Brad Jones. “Our intent was to verify all systems are operational in a flight environment. This flawless flight allows us to move into the next phase. In the next couple of weeks, we will ferry F-15E1 to the test range and launch an AIM- 120.”

Boeing unveiled the F-15 Silent Eagle (F-15SE) last March as a new configuration of the F-15 that had undergone improvements and modifications, reportedly providing the plane with a stealth capability that is effective in evading radars on enemy aircraft but not against ground-based radar systems.

Improvements in stealth include coatings and treatments to the aircraft, as well as a new design for the conformal fuel tanks that includes the possibility of carrying weapons inside them instead of fuel. Israel operates several squadrons of F-15s, including one of 25 F-15Is, the aircraft with the longest range in the IAF.

While Boeing is still reportedly awaiting Pentagon approval to export the plane, Israel has already held a number of initial discussions regarding the plane and its capabilities.

The maiden flight comes as the Defense Ministry is holding a series of consultations aimed at reaching a decision on which aircraft to buy and how many by the end of the summer.

Israel would like to buy the JSF fifthgeneration fighter jet manufactured by Lockheed Martin, but is concerned with expected delays and the soaring price of the plane, now estimated at close to $150 million. In comparison, the F-15SE will reportedly cost around $100m.

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