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F-15 Breaks Up in Midair


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The F-15 fleet is grounded pending the results of the investigation. It was a timely accident as the USAF is trying to get more money from Congress to fund more F-22's.


The aging planes are the nation's most sophisticated front-line fighters.

By Peter Spiegel, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
November 6, 2007
WASHINGTON -- The Air Force has grounded its entire fleet of F-15s, the service's premier fighter aircraft, after one of the planes disintegrated over eastern Missouri during a training mission, raising the possibility of a fatal flaw in the aging fighters' fuselage that could keep it out of the skies for months.

Gen. T. Michael "Buzz" Moseley, the Air Force chief of staff, ordered the grounding Saturday after initial reports indicated that the Missouri Air National Guard fighter plane had broken apart Friday in midair during a simulated dogfight. The pilot ejected and survived.

Although the 688 F-15s in the Air Force's arsenal are gradually being replaced by a new generation of aircraft -- the F-22 -- they remain the nation's most sophisticated front-line fighters.

U.S. officials said that the F-15s are heavily used for protecting the continental U.S. from terrorist attacks, as well as for combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Lt. Gen. Gary L. North, the Air Force officer in charge of military aircraft in the Middle East, said in a statement Monday that he would be able to fill the gap with other fighters and bombers in his arsenal.

But another Air Force official said the F-15 grounding would have a "significant impact" on operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. "They will clearly have to work hard to pick up the slack," the official said.

The health of the F-15 fleet has long been a concern for Air Force brass, who repeatedly have warned that the two-engine fighter has exceeded its expected life span and is straining under the workload imposed by the counter-terrorism duty.

In addition, Moseley has repeatedly raised concerns that the plane is inadequate for increasingly sophisticated air defense systems being developed by potential adversaries like China and Iran.

"The F-15s . . . they're very capable airplanes," Moseley told a congressional hearing last month. "But against the new-generation threat systems, they don't have the advantage that we had when they were designed in the late 1960s and built in the 1970s."

In May, another Missouri Air National Guard F-15 crashed in southern Indiana during a similar training exercise. That pilot survived as well.

The F-15 that crashed Friday was 27 years old. Of the five different versions of the F-15 currently used by the Air Force, four versions average between 24 and 30 years of age.

The F-15E, the newest version, is only 15 1/2 years old, but it has been grounded along with the other versions because it has a similar airframe.

Air Force leaders have frequently cited the age and obsolescence of the F-15 as the main reason to buy the new, more stealthy F-22, the most expensive fighter ever made.

Critics of the F-22, which was first designed to fight a generation of Soviet MiGs that never materialized, have argued it is an overpriced Cold War relic, but the Air Force says it has adapted the plane to meet more modern threats and missions.

Lt. Gen. David Deptula, a former F-15 pilot who is now the Air Force head of intelligence, said that his son now flies the exact same F-15 aircraft that Deptula flew while based in Japan in the late 1970s.

"They have become serious maintenance challenges as they get older, and now I'd suggest that we may be facing a crisis," Deptula said.

"We must recapitalize our aging fighter forces -- and fast."

Loren Thompson, a military analyst with the Lexington Institute who has consulted for aircraft manufacturers, said the accident was probably caused by metal fatigue, corrosion or faulty maintenance.

If maintenance problems turn out to be the culprit, Thompson said, the F-15 fleet could be returned to flight relatively quickly. Similarly, corrosion could be addressed by examining other aircraft for similar problems.

If the Missouri crash was the result of metal fatigue, however, it could lead to a much more extended grounding, since it would suggest that time and intense use of the aircraft since the Sept. 11 attacks have finally caught up with the aging fighter.

"The whole fleet was already flying on flight restrictions due to metal fatigue," said Thompson, noting that a fleetwide grounding is extremely rare, especially for a fighter.

"In this case, the planes that are grounded are supposed to be America's top-of-the-line air-superiority plane," Thompson added. "This is not like grounding some cargo plane. These are the sinews of our global air dominance."

Despite fears over the plane's safety, it remained unclear whether all F-15s were on the ground or would stay there. Lt. Col. Edward W. Thomas Jr., an Air Force spokesman, said that over North America, counter-terrorism missions were being taken over by the single-engine F-16 fighter, but that some F-15s would be on standby during the transition period.

Similarly, an Air Force official said North, the Air Force commander in the Middle East, would keep some F-15Es on hand in case of an emergency.

"They're not going to put their aircraft on the flying schedule, but if they really need the combat capability and you've got troops in harm's way, they're going to launch them," the official said.

According to Air Force officials, Moseley and other senior officers were alarmed after it became clear that the accident in Missouri was the result of the plane simply breaking apart during a relatively basic exercise.

Capt. Bridget Zorn, a spokeswoman for the Missouri Air National Guard, said the pilot had been released from the hospital with a dislocated shoulder and broken arm.

She said investigators were still in the early stages of their inquiry, marking and identifying pieces of wreckage at the site, about 120 miles southwest of St. Louis.

Scarry situation!

A whole generation of fighter & strike aircraft are coming to the end of their useful life... all at the same time (F14s, F15s, F16s)

Consider the fact that the unit cost of any new replacement aircraft will be a pill large enough to choke a horse... not a pretty corner we've painted ourselves into.

geo said:
Scarry situation!

A whole generation of fighter & strike aircraft are coming to the end of their useful life... all at the same time (F14s, F15s, F16s)

Consider the fact that the unit cost of any new replacement aircraft will be a pill large enough to choke a horse... not a pretty corner we've painted ourselves into.

Well.....doesnt that problem sound familiar ?
Not to mention the replacements are so dam expensive they can't replace one for one. They may have been better off having a front line fighter in the F-22/35 series and new 2nd line fighters withupgraded avionics and engines based on newly built existing air frame designs.
tomahawk6 said:
Worse is that the F-35 isnt ready for service yet.

This just compounds the USAF's problem.  With the F-15 grounded, the F-16 will have to step in and pick up the slack.  This will add more wear and tear on the F-16 and accelerating its retirement with its replacement, the F-35 still not ready for a few more years.
Think our A/F is in bad shape, read on.

Posted with the usual...


Eisenhower-Era Planes Still Defend U.S.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007 12:57 PM

By: Dave Eberhart  Article Font Size 

U.S. Air Force pilots are flying some planes so old they were built during the Eisenhower administration, and Congress is delaying new appropriations to modernize America’s aging fighters, bombers, and other military aircraft.

The average age of today’s Air Force fleet is 24 years.

Big B-52 bombers, which played a critical role in America’s recent efforts to liberate Iraq and stabilize Afghanistan, are over 45 years old.

Worse, many of these bombers rely on KC-135 aerial refueling tankers that are just as old.

The U.S. military critically depends on C-130 cargo planes for rapid deployment. Yet these planes -- many built at least 25 years ago -- are crippled by serious wing cracks and have been grounded or restricted in the loads they can deliver. Giant tank-carrying C-5A cargo aircraft -- about 35 years old -- are also parked on runways owing to heavy maintenance requirements.

The bottom line: The United States is fighting the war on terror with an old and rapidly aging Air Force warplane inventory -- and there is no quick cure in sight.

The results can be catastrophic.

In 2002, Maj. James Duricy was killed after ejecting from his F-15 when the warplane lost part of its tail while flying over the Gulf of Mexico. The F-15 was about 30 years old. An investigation showed that part of the old aircraft’s internal structure had corroded. Eventually, the vertical stabilizers had to be replaced on almost half of the U.S. Air Force’s F-15 fleet.

The Duricy was a victim of what military experts call the “weapon systems procurement holidays of the 1990s” – when the U.S. government took advantage of the end of the Cold War, called it a “peace dividend” and didn’t appropriate the necessary funds to modernize its aging fleet of military planes.

And the procurement curve of new hardware, particularly in the fighter department, cannot keep up.

According to a recent report in Air Force Magazine, even if the Air Force gets all the new fighters on its wish list -- 381 F-22 Raptors and 1,763 F-35 Lightning IIs -- for decades it will still have to rely on a record number of older fighters to meet the contingencies of national defense.

By sheer necessity, the USAF must lengthen the service lives of its 1980s-vintage fighters -- F-15s, F-16s, and A-10s -- with substantial structural changes and new state-of-the-art black boxes.

We are not talking about squeezing two or three more years out of the aging fleet, but keeping some of the refurbished warplanes serving until the 2030s -- meaning pilots could then be flying jets 50 years old or older.

It’s one thing to burn through taxpayer dollars to keep vital, albeit old, warplanes in the air -- and another to simply toss good money after bad on planes that will not fly. So argues U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga., a member of the House Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee.

The lawmaker says the Air Force reported spending about $4 million daily and $1.7 billion annually to maintain 330 aircraft “they can’t use and are not planning to use.”

Included are a mix of ancient KC-135 tankers, C-130 air lifters, F-117 fighters, U-2 reconnaissance planes, and C-5As.

It’s not the Air Force brass’s idea to nurse along this old iron. Restrictions on retiring the nation’s oldest aircraft are written into law -- thanks to some members of Congress who worried that deep-sixing the planes would make bases in their district or state targets for the dreaded base closing process.

Predictably, the old aircraft also provide lucrative jobs for defense contractors.

U.S. Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Ga., for instance, lobbies hard for continuation of the effort to modernize the oldest C-5s, which is performed at a Georgia-based Lockheed Martin Corp. factory. The price tag for upgrading each C-5 is about $75 million.

In another example of parochial interests perhaps overriding the big picture, Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee chairwoman Ellen Tauscher, D-Calif., has urged retention of the C-5s based at Travis Air Force Base in her district.

Rep. Todd Akin, R-Mo., the ranking member of the Oversight & Investigations Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee, has been the most vocal proponent of letting the Air Force manage its own inventory of warplanes.

“Congress has been micromanaging the Air Force,” the lawmaker argues. “Several provisions in the 2007 defense authorization law bar the Air Force from getting rid of old planes.

“One requires the service to have a total of 299 C-5s and C-17s available at all times. The Air Force is also prohibited from retiring more than 29 KC-130Es in 2007 and must maintain tankers and F-117A fighters retired after Sept. 30, 2006, ‘in a condition which would allow recall to future service.’

These provisions tie up parts that could be used to repair planes in better working order. They also force maintenance crews to care for aircraft that will never fly again.”

Akin endorses the straightforward plea of Lt. Gen. Donald Hoffman, the military deputy in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, who recently told lawmakers: “We would like permission, as the other services have, to manage our fleet.”

In the meantime, the embattled Air Force has had to resort to self-help. According to Gen. Bruce Carlson, commander of the Air Force Materiel Command, the service will be downsizing the number of its personnel so it can afford to invest in newer aircraft. On the boards: a plan to cut the ranks by 57,500 airmen by 2011.

The savings from the force reduction will be invested in new aircraft, said Carlson, who explained: “We simply have to recapitalize the fleet to be ready to fight the next war.”

Why the drastic measures? The answer can be easily gleaned from some dire numbers.

Today, more than 800 aircraft -- 14 percent of the fleet -- are grounded or operating under restricted flying conditions. This fact has had an impact on overall combat readiness, which has declined by 17 percent, according to Maj. Gen. Frank Faykes, deputy assistant secretary for budget, Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Financial Management.

The 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review spelled out that the Air Force must have 86 combat wings to do its job. According to USAF officials, it has about 81 combat wings’ worth of forces now.

To help get up to snuff, the Air Force says it needs, among a host of things, 1,763 F-35s to replace the F-16 and A-10. But the pace at which F-35s will come online is troublesome.

As F-16s pass their planned life expectancy and must retire, the new F-35s won’t appear in operational service for another six years.

Furthermore, USAF budget documents indicate that the service can afford only 48 F-35s a year over the FYDP (Future Years Defense Program). If that number is not ramped up, it will take about 40 years to buy all the F-35s required.

Meanwhile, the expensive patch-and-fix of the so-called “legacy” aircraft grinds on, and there’s nothing simplistic or cheap about it.

A good example is the F-15. Even though the USAF will replace a large portion of F-15Cs with the F-22 Raptor, the service will still need to supplement the F-22s with the F-15 beyond 2025.

By that time, the F-15 will have been in service for more than 50 years, and those still in the air will be more than 35 years old, according to Air Force Magazine.

Selected F-15s will undergo expensive renovations that include replacing the aircraft’s analog radar; installing a new combined Global Positioning System/Inertial Navigation System; new radios; digital video recorder; new identification, friend or foe systems; and a helmet-mounted targeting system.

Add to the package new Pratt & Whitney engines, new wiring, new ribbing under weapons stations, and tinkering with the flight-control system.

Remember those tank-killing A-10 “Warthogs” that blasted Saddam Hussein’s forces in the Gulf War? They’ve been in the U.S. inventory since 1975.

Some 223 are getting all-new wings, with replaced flight controls, new fuel pumps for the fuel tanks in the wings, and new wiring.

The workhorse F-16s have proved more nettlesome in the service-life extension process. The structural upgrade replaces some bulkheads, wing skins, and other pieces, but there’s a built-in limit on remanufacturing. The F-16 is made with large amounts of composite materials, designed for a certain life expectancy.

And even that life expectancy has been pushed beyond the envelope. Originally expected to be flying about 250 hours a year, those aircraft deployed to combat have averaged 300 hours per year or more.

All of which means that until scores of new aircraft are procured, many pilots will continue to fly jets that were built before they were born.

© 2007 Newsmax. All rights reserved.
Imagine that, several fleets reaching already extended lifetimes with associated fatigue issue...familiar, indeed.  One could argue that the US is also "profiting" from the "peace dividend" of the late 80's-early-90's -- something that otherwise looks eerily like a "failure to invest in infrastructure" that has the follow-on effect of having huge demands to renew infrastructure at a level of investment far greater than moderate periodic investments in infrastructure.  Many nations have already gone through this.  that these issues are manifesting themselves now in the US is probably due to a number of factors, but most likely to the US not "rolling back" the defence capability nearly as much as other Western nations during the 90's.  The specifics of air power and what the USAF requires today (composition/proportion of capabilities provided vs. required), however, in concert with the much greater lead times in developing technology than existed in the 50's through 70's means that the only systems to replace 4th gen fighters, are 5th gen fighters as a much greater (even for the F-35) than in the past.  That the USAF position is that the F-22 has "adapted" to the changing requirements is good in one way, but one would also have to ask, "Is procuring greater quantities of a high-tech, expensive weapon system the right thing to do?", or should a complementary lower-tech solution that can be used in a number of existing, and projected theaters of operation, and that can be developed in a relatively short time?  This relates closely to the thread regarding the future of the USAF.  The "true blue" boys still seem to have a problem with systems like A-10 (or follow on) or movers or CSAR helo's etc... that "steal the limelight" from....The Fighter!  This is, however, most definitely not an issue on which the USAF holds a monopoly.

OMG,  with info like that, there has to be some AF personnel who can't sleep at night....

Someone aughta give them a list of the phone numbers for the Senators & congressmen responsible for hanging on to old birds.... wake em up & keep em awake
Good2Golf said:
The "true blue" boys still seem to have a problem with systems like A-10 (or follow on) or movers or CSAR helo's etc... that "steal the limelight" from....The Fighter!
Hence, when the F-15 was being built, the mantra was "not one pound for air-to-ground"....until they saw where the budget was heading. Suddenly gun-tape on some conformal fuel tanks, add bombs, and voila the USAF's lead CAS platform -- even though everyone knew it was crap in that role when compared with an A-10 (or F-16, or Tornado.....). But now that there are no A-10s in theatre, and AC-130s are scarce, Afganistan too low priority and/or not enough tankers to support CVN-based F/A-18s.......F-15Es became a necessary evil.

And now they're grounded  :mad:

At least the French have 3 Mirages here.....to protect the airfield's outer markers  ::)
Journeyman said:
At least the French have 3 Mirages here.....to protect the airfield's outer markers  ::)

Gawd, they actully let them fly that far? Kind of like a touch-n-go, without actually going. Did anyone bother to tell them it's much cheaper to just keep throwing quarters (sheckels, lira, shilling etc) into the little one-seaters at the mall entrance instead?? Less risky too.
JM, unbelievable.....but not surprising.  Hearing the "not one pound, for air to ground" again just gets me going...  Heck, apparently a Su-25 would be more effective than an F-15E on the ground, right about now.

The French told General McNeil that the 3 French aircraft with French pilots is like having a squadron of A-10's. ;)

Seriously though I dont see a drop off in CAS capabilities. Here is a link to the daily airpower report for CENTAF. CAS ops in Iraq are down I suppose if needed the USAF could transfer A-10's to Bagram.

Wow that's too bad. When a airframe decides to break up like that its usually pretty spectacular. A few years ago 2 F-18's off Savannah did a mid air in front of my ship. All we picked up were a few fragments. The pilots punched out though and were safe.
All we picked up were a few fragments

I hope that you were wearing approved respiration protection.  Carbon fibres are not good for the lungs.
There are A-10s at Bagram, Afstan:

And videos here, probably this year:

MarkOttawa said:
There are A-10s at Bagram, Afstan:
First off Mark, there are NOT A-10s at Bagram.
Look at the dates of the links you posted: 19 Apr, 31 Aug, 23 Oct, 27 June. As  mentioned, the A-10s were pulled out. They were slated to be back in late-winter, but because the F-15s are currently being employed as massive paper-weights, the A-10s have been ordered back....but they're not here yet. Believe me, I look at the air stack every time an Op may spool up -- which is pretty much daily.

SeaKingTacco said:
The upshot- the guys owning non-Mach 1 airplanes did the best.  The faster the top speed of the airplane (IMHO)  the worse the CAS service (in general) that you are likely to receive
I agree D -- and I suspect it's the mindset as much as the airframe (except for #4 -- when you're in a TIC, counting a "pretend CAS" airframe is as useful as relying on an aircraft that's not actually flying). Mind you, if we are playing that game, I want FLYING sharks with fricken' laser beams attached to their heads!!

And for what it's worth, I'm also a big fan of AC-130s....but there aren't nearly enough to go around. The CAOC supports ops in Iraq and Afghanistan -- and you know which team plays Operation OVERLORD and who's playing Operation DRAGOON
Journeyman: My apologies and thanks for the correction.  I took the Oct. 23 date and wrongly assumed (hah!)  current deployment.