Tuesday, December 04, 2007

For Those Keeping Score at Home

...The Air Force's fleet of F-15 air superiority fighters has been grounded for a third time.

The most recent stand down went into effect Monday evening, just hours after some of the jets had been cleared to resume flying. Over 400 F-15 B,C and D models were originally grounded in early November, after a Missouri National Guard jet began breaking up in flight. The pilot ejected safely, but the subsequent crash investigation revealed serious structural fatigue in that aircraft that caused the mishap.

As a result of that accident, scores of F-15s were grounded until late November, when safety checks were completed. The fighters were grounded a second time on 29 November, after the Missouri crash investigation uncovered potential problems with the aircraft's longerons, which are essential for its structural integrity.

The F-15 that crashed in Missouri entered the Air Force in 1980. Most of the Eagles affected by the stand-down are at least 25 years old. The grounding does not affect twin-seat F-15E Strike Eagle variants that were built in the mid-to-late 1980s.

According to Air Force Times, there is no word on how long the latest stand-down will last. A spokesman for Air Combat Command, which operates most of the service's F-15s, suggested that commanders want a "comprehensive overview" of the Eagles' problems, and plan to keep the jets parked until it is complete.

That suggests that the current grounding may last well past the holidays--and it's probably a good thing. Flying activity is normally minimal between Christmas and New Year's, giving the service time to resolve the problems once and for all, and prevent additional (and embarrassing) stand-downs of the F-15 fleet.

As we noted in a previous post, the no-fly order only affects air-to-air versions of the F-15. Consequently, the stand down will have a minimal impact on combat ops in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, the grounding will create major headaches in aircrew training, continental air defense, and other missions that rely on the "light gray" Eagles.

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