F-15SA Bristles With A Dozen AIM-120 Missiles During Star Wars Canyon Run

Saudi Arabia's newest F-15 derivative shows that it can carry more air-to-air missiles than any other operational fighter.

Christopher McGreevy

Currently, the most advanced F-15 Eagles on the planet belong to the Royal Saudi Air Force which has a decades-long history with the type. In its latest iteration, known as the F-15SA, the mighty Strike Eagle has been vastly upgraded. One of the type's most prominent new features is the activation of the Eagle's long-dormant outer-wing stores stations number one and nine. This was made possible with the help of the F-15SA's new fly-by-wire flight control system. 

With this upgrade, the Eagle can fly with a wide array of new weapons configurations, including being able to turn into an air-to-air 'missile truck' of sorts. This unique loadout was captured in amazing fashion by aviation photographer Christopher McGreevy as a pair of F-15SA's blasted through Star Wars Canyon on June 12, 2018.

McGreevy's photos are stunning and show a pair of F-15SA's used for testing out of Plant 42 in Palmdale, California, rocketing through the crevasse, one totally clean and the other featuring its current max air-to-air loadout of 12 AIM-120 AMRAAMs. This is four more than any other Eagle has been able to carry in the past. The missiles loaded onto the test F-15SA were inert training rounds, but there is nothing keeping live versions off the jet. A pair of drop tanks, LANTIRN navigation pod, Tiger Eyes IRST, and Sniper targeting pod round-out the test jet's configuration. 

Christopher McGreevy
Christopher McGreevy
Christopher McGreevy
Christopher McGreevy
Christopher McGreevy
Christopher McGreevy
Christopher McGreevy
Christopher McGreevy
Christopher McGreevy
Christopher McGreevy
Christopher McGreevy
Christopher McGreevy
Christopher McGreevy
Christopher McGreevy
Christopher McGreevy
Christopher McGreevy
Christopher McGreevy

The Strike Eagle was built for low-level interdiction in any conditions, so a ride through Star Wars Canyon on a sunny day is a particularly normal training operation in the aircraft's intended operating environment. This mission, in particular, was also a fini-flight—a crewman's last flight—for a USAF test pilot that had been working on the F-15SA program. The overall gray jet was piloted by a Boeing test pilot. 

As for the F-15's air-to-air missile carrying capabilities, a dozen AIM-120s is very impressive, but with the addition of new launcher-racks called the Advanced Missile and Bomb Ejection Rack (AMBER) that number could end up nearly doubling for the F-15SA and its successors to a whopping 22 missiles in total. Even older F-15 models could be able to lug 16 air-to-air missiles around under the proposed 2040C configuration, which doubles their current missile carrying capabilities. You can read about how such an ability could be used in future combat scenarios here, here, and here

The next Eagle iteration will be the F-15QA which is destined to Saudi Arabia's less than loving neighbor Qatar. The F-15QA will be even more advanced than the F-15SA and will include new large-screen cockpit displays, a low-profile HUD, and an entirely new internal wing structure among other enhancements. 36 of the jets are on order with an option for another 36 in hand. 

Even though an upgrade program continues on multiple fronts for USAF F-15C/D Eagles, their future is now more in doubt than ever, but the service's F-15Es are sure to serve long into the future. They are currently receiving new radars and soon they will get one of the most advanced electronic warfare suites on the planet. But even with these enhancements, they won't compare to the Eagles currently being fielded to Arab states, and it looks very likely that Israel will be putting in an order for similar jets in the very near future. 

Author's note: A huge thanks to Christopher McGreevy for sharing his awesome pictures with us, they are some of the coolest shots we have seen from the canyon yet!

Contact the author: Tyler@thedrive.com