Military investigators have reportedly found no indications of structural failure in Wednesday's crash of an F-15 in Nevada that killed one of its pilots.
Sources tell In From the Cold that early analysis suggests structural problems did not contribute to the fatal accident. However, they emphasized that the investigation is in its very early stages and so far, "nothing has been fully ruled out."
The F-15D Eagle went down on Wednesday morning during a combat training mission on the sprawling Nevada Range Complex, north of Las Vegas. One of the pilots was declared dead 24 hours later; the other was rescued a short time after the crash and taken to a hospital at Nellis AFB.
Air Force officials subsequently identifed the dead pilot at Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Bouley, Commander of the 65th Aggressor Squadron at Nellis. The surviving crew member was described as a Royal Air Force exchange pilot, assigned to the 64th Aggressor Squadron, also based at Nellis. His name has not been released.
Both aggressor units replicate the tactics and capabilities of enemy fighters, providing realistic threat training to U.S. and allied aircrews. The 64th is equipped with F-16s (designed to mimic Russian-built MiG-29 Fulcrums), while the 65th squadron's F-15s replicate another Russian jet, the widely exported SU-27/30 Flanker.
Bouley was a veteran F-15 pilot, with more than 4,000 hours in the aircraft. He recently celebrated his 20th year in the Air Force, according to Colonel Russell Handy, Commander of the 57th Wing at Nellis. The wing is the parent organization for a number of units at the base, including the Aggressor squadrons.
A team of Air Force experts, led by Major General Mark Matthews, has been appointed to investigate the accident. Matthews currently serves as Director of Requirements for Air Combat Command, which controls Nellis's Air Warfare Center and its subordinate units, including the 57th Wing.
The accident board will examine all possible causes for the crash, including human and mechanical factors. A final report on the accident is expected in six to twelve months.
Structural problems became an immediate concern at the time of the Nevada mishap. Last November, the Air Force grounded more than 500 C and D model F-15s after a jet assigned to the Missouri Air National Guard broke apart in mid-flight. The crash was later blamed on a structural flaw.
The Missouri mishap prompted inspections of other F-15s, and the jets remained on the ground for more than a month. The stand-down also effected Eagles operated by allied air forces around the world.
Investigators are expected to spend several days combing the Nevada crash site, about 50 miles east of Goldfield. Remnants of the aircraft will eventually be returned to Nellis for further analysis.
As the inquiry continues, military sources suggest that the crew remained with the jet until the last moment. One Air Force official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told In From the Cold that the surviving pilot got only "one swing" in his parachute before hitting the ground, suggesting an extremely low-altitude ejection.
It is not clear which of the two pilots initiated the ejection sequence. In the F-15D, the rear ejection seat for the second pilot fires first, followed by the aircraft commander's seat, in the front.
The official speculated that Brouley, with years of experience in the F-15, stayed in his jet as long as possible, trying to correct whatever went wrong.
At the time of the crash, the F-15 was flying a mission in support of Red Flag 08-03. In its traditional, air superiority role, the Eagle would have (most likely) been at medium to high altitude before the accident occurred.
In addition to his tours in the F-15, Brouley also served as an exchange pilot with the RAF, flying F-3 Tornados.
The accident caused a temporary suspension of Red Flag, but the exercise resumed the next day.