September 2005 
Volume 04, Issue 5 
Integrated Defense Systems

A great fix

New F-15 trainer a survivor, teacher


How Boeing turned the remains of a wrecked F-15 into a fully-functioning armaments trainer

F-15B fuselage
1The F-15B forward fuselage, modified to E-model specifications, and the F-15E aft fuselage, rebuilt to E specifications, were joined at Boeing Logistics Support Systems' facility at Williams Gateway Airport in Mesa, Ariz. In this photo, salvaged engine inlets had just been joined to the forward fuselage.

F-15E airframe
2 The rebuilt F-15E airframe departs Boeing's Logistics Support Systems facility at Williams Gateway Airport in Mesa, Ariz. Although the team there had previously built trainers from damaged aircraft, this F-15E project stands out. "The skill of the technicians rebuilding this aircraft was awesome," said Site Leader Mac Bolton.

Trainer airframe
3 The trainer airframe awaits wing installation at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas. Boeing mechanics modified the B forward fuselage to E specifications, meticulously removing the internal structure of the E cockpit and piecing it together again inside the B forward fuselage.

Starboard engine
4 An Air Force crew chief guides the starboard engine into the trainer. The airframe provides a highly realistic configuration for armament technicians to practice loading weapons.

Assembled F-15B
5 Assembled and ready for use, the trainer displays a full load of weapons for its ribbon-cutting ceremony.

A group from Boeing went to look at the parts. They crawled around the fuselage, examined the wings and looked through small pieces—all hints of the F-15E Strike Eagle (tail number 96-0203) that once had graced the skies. Meanwhile, U.S. Air Force officials waited.

"This is going to be a lot of work," Mike Militello, Boeing F-15 training project manager for Mesa, Ariz., thought initially. And then just as quickly, he thought: "But we can do it."

The Air Force had already determined the aircraft, which in 2000 had suffered a landing mishap at the Royal Air Force Lakenheath air base in the United Kingdom, would never fly again. However, Boeing's Training Systems & Services group, part of Integrated Defense Systems, confirmed their hunch the aircraft could be salvaged to fulfill another mission: training. Earlier this summer, Boeing returned the aircraft, now an armament load trainer, to the Air Force.

Working with the F-15 Program Office and various Air Force agencies, Boeing started building the trainer in late 2003. At the Air Force's suggestion, they retrieved parts from a retired F-15B to replace parts destroyed on the E aircraft.

The team expected problems in splicing (or joining) the older B-model forward fuselage to the E aft fuselage. But they got a pleasant surprise: All the holes aligned except one. Using a forklift truck as a makeshift tooling jig, they joined the pieces together in one day.

Gary Milcheck, design engineer, credits the F-15 design. "We were very lucky that as the F-15 evolved and was built with thicker metal for higher strength requirements, the interface didn't change."

Reconstruction of the starboard main landing gear and the landing-gear bay was as difficult as the fuselage splicing was easy. When the team tried to join a major section of this F-15B bay to the F-15E fuselage, they found 90 percent of the 300 holes were misaligned. For six months, engineers, a stress analyst and a structural mechanic worked together to design and install fixes. Then, the team designed new landing gear, built from scratch by a local contractor.

Upon the trainer's delivery to Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas, an Air Force support worker approached Milcheck to ask: "Is this the aircraft that crashed at Lakenheath?" Stunned by Milcheck's nod, he replied: "I helped pick up the pieces. We all thought we'd never see this aircraft again."

For Milcheck, it was a proud moment. "There's a great amount of satisfaction for everyone on the team," he said. "To look as good as [the aircraft] does, it's amazing. I'm really happy to see the Air Force is going to get more use out of it."

The airframe, designated TFE-24 Armament Load Trainer, is the first and only F-15E trainer at the base.

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