For the second time this month, the Air Force has grounded its F-15A/D model air superiority fighters and ordered new inspections of the entire fleet, which includes more than 450 "Eagles" assigned to active duty, Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve units. The order affects 60% of the service's F-15s, which perform air superiority and air defense missions.
The latest stand-down is the result of a 2 November accident involving a Missouri Air National Guard (ANG) F-15, which apparently suffered a major structural failure and began breaking apart in flight. The pilot ejected safely, but the Air Force ordered an immediate stand-down of all F-15 variants until the aircraft could be inspected. F-15s operated by the air forces of Saudi Arabia, Israel and Japan were grounded as well.
While the U.S. jets were cleared to return to the skies on 21 November, more detailed information from the Missouri crash led a second grounding, which went into effect yesterday. According to a news release from the Air Force Press Network:
The new findings from the Accident Investigation Board indicate possible fleet-wide airworthiness problems with F-15A/B/C and D aircraft. These findings, based on a metallurgical analysis of the mishap aircraft, have drawn attention to the F-15's upper longerons near the canopy of the aircraft that appear to have cracked and failed. The longerons are major structural components that run along the length and side of the aircraft.
Although the longeron area was covered in general by previous inspections as a result of the Nov. 2 mishap, technical experts with the Warner Robins Air Logistics Center in Georgia, are recommending a specific inspection technique for the suspect area based on the yesterday's findings.
Manufacturer simulations have indicated a catastrophic failure could result in this particular area. In addition, cracks were discovered along the same longeron area during two recent inspections of F-15C aircraft. These aircraft were immediately grounded based upon the inspection findings and are awaiting further engineering instructions.
Based on this most recent data, ACC believes it is necessary to stand-down the F-15 A through D aircraft until such time each aircraft can receive a more detailed and tailored inspection of the upper longerons in the focus area.
Air Force spokesmen emphasized that the latest grounding does not effect F-15E "Strike Eagle" aircraft, which were also grounded following the Missouri crash. The twin-seat F-15E has been a mainstay of bombing missions in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and the earlier stand down left commanders scrambling to find other jets for the missions normally flown by Strike Eagles.
Since the A/D model F-15s do not fly bombing sorties, their grounding will have little impact on ground operations in the Middle East. However, the stand down will have a major effect on the air superiority and air defense missions performed by the "light gray" F-15s. Air defense of the continental United States is handled (in part) by F-15 units, and the A/D models would play a major role in gaining air supremacy against any potential adversary, including Iran.
At this point, it is unclear how long the F-15A/Ds will remain on the tarmac. The previous inspection of the fleet took two weeks, and the newly-ordered evaluation is expected to last at least that long. Repairs to F-15s with defective longerons could take months to complete, and result in an extended stand down among the air superiority fighters. The latest grounding is also expected to extend to other countries that operate the F-15, according to defense analysts.
The longeron problem is the latest indicator of age and maintenance problems among the Air Force fighter fleet. Virtually all of the aircraft affected by the stand down have been in service for more than 20 years; some are almost as old as the pilots who fly them. Air Force Lieutenant General Dave Deptula, the service's chief of Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR), recently told an audience that his son--a fighter pilot at Kadena AB, Japan--is flying the same F-15s he piloted three decades ago. And despite extensive maintenance, years of high-performance flying is taking a toll on the Eagles and other Air Force jets.
While the service would like to buy more F-22 Raptors to replace the F-15s, the new jet is expensive ($133 million a copy), and the on-going conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have further constrained the Air Force budget. In short, the service is facing a quandary: it doesn't have enough money to buy the needed number of F-22s, and it's going to be hard-pressed to keep older jets flying.
With the F-15 air superiority models grounded again, the Air Force will turn to other aircraft and its allied partners, to ensure mission coverage. A prolonged stand down of the F-15A/D fleet will mean more tasking for the F-16 community and the "dark gray" F-15Es. That, in turn, will mean more flying hours and fatigue for those platforms, accelerating their aging process as well. That, in turn, will require even more funding for aircraft maintenance and repairs--money that the Air Force doesn't have.
ADDENDUM: We are happy to report that the standdown was not the result of a recent (and decidedly) unfortunate campaign by an F-15 pilot at Langley AFB, VA, to have himself selected as Cosmopolitan Magazine's Bachelor of the Year. In pursuit of that dubious honor, he sent an e-mail to scores of colleagues, virtually all male. Needless to say, his effort to urge men to vote for him as bachelor of the year struck some as a bit odd. And, for everyone outside the F-15 community, it was simply more proof that Eagle drivers pursue (ahem) "alternative" lifestyles. The original e-mail is reprinted below; we've deleted the names of the pilot and those that received the request to vote. However, we did include his callsign (more on that in a moment):
Yes, you might think this is a little gay, but what the hell.
I was selected to be the Virginia Bachelor for Cosmos annual bachelor issue. They chose me for Virginia.
Each state has a bachelor and the winner is chosen by who gets the most online votes. The voting starts tonight at midnight (9 Oct at > 12:00 AM) and ends on Thursday at 11:59 PM.
There are only 3 days to get as many votes as possible and then the winner is chosen.
The magazine comes out on the 16th of October and the winner is announced on the 18th.
I would appreciate you help by voting for me on the website. Here is > the web> > address: (you can view this at work)> https://subscribe.hearstmags.com/subscribe/cosmopolitan/11643 https://subscribe.hearstmags.com/subscribe/cosmopolitan/11643/>> https://subscribe.hearstmags.com/subscribe/cosmopolitan/11643/>> > https://subscribe.hearstmags.com/subscribe/cosmopolitan/11643/>> https://subscribe.hearstmags.com/subscribe/cosmopolitan/11643/You can vote 1 time per day per email address you have.
Feel free to tell your friends if you are so inclined. Thanks for the help. Spears, comments, Bullshit flags.all welcomed and expected for doing > something like this.
As you might expect, "Dollar's" colleagues frowned mightily on his "get out the vote" campaign, and the embarassment it caused other F-15 drivers. In fact, we're told that his squadron at Langley (the "Ironmen--no small irony there) convened an emergency meeting to change his callsign. "Dollar" is now reportedly known as "Ruble," the most worthless currency they could think of.
Incidentally, I had the pleasure of participating in a similar "re-naming" during my days as an intel officer in an F-4 squadron. For an act of stupidity that was far less serious, one of our pilots became "Wedge"--the simplest tool known to mankind.
BTW, "Wedge" is now a Brigadier General. Go figure.