F-15 crash is unlike earlier one, says general
Plane that crashed had passed safety inspection 3 weeks ago
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A safety team arrives this week to investigate Friday's F-15 crash south of Oahu, but the Hawaii Air National Guard's 154th Wing commander said the cause does not appear to be related to structural problems that grounded the Air Force's entire fleet of F-15s in November.
Brig. Gen. Peter Pawling said the fighter in Friday's crash was in one piece before the crash. The pilot of the plane was able to eject safely and was released from the Queen's Medical Center to recuperate at home, a guard spokesman said.
Military analysts said Friday's crash underscores the Air Force's need to replace the fleet in the near future.
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Although an investigation into Friday's F-15D crash is ongoing, the Hawaii Air National Guard's 154th Wing commander said he doesn't believe the crash was related to the structural problems that grounded all Air Force F-15 for two months.
The F-15D jet that crashed was just put back into service three weeks ago, after undergoing safety inspections.
"The airplane (in Friday's crash) was still in one piece," said Brig. Gen. Peter Pawling, commander of the 154th Wing, of Friday's crash 60 miles south of the Honolulu airport. "There was no inflight breakup."
All 676 Air Force F-15s were grounded in November after an F-15C broke in two during a training flight in Missouri. An investigation concluded that a defective aluminum beam in the frame cracked.
Hawaii's F-15s are about 30 years old and were acquired in 1987.
But Pawling said it's too early to link the plane's age to the crash, pending the ongoing investigation.
"It could very well be true, but it's something we're going to have to scrutinize," Pawling said.
The Guard has yet to decide whether to retrieve the jet from the ocean bottom, although Pawling said he would like it retrieved. The F-15D models cost about $29.9 million each.
U.S. Coast Guard was able to recover two trash bags and two trash cans full of debris, said Capt. Jeff Hickman, spokesman for the Air Guard.
A safety investigation team comprised of Air Force and Guard officials will assemble in Hawaii this week to investigate the crash.
The plane's pilot ejected safely at about 1:37 Friday afternoon. The pilot said he could not control the plane and started to lose altitude before the crash, Maj. Gen. Robert Lee said Friday. The plane experienced no problems during a routine exercise earlier that day.
All training missions involving the fighters have been halted, including a mock aerial combat test with the Navy's newest F-18 Super Hornets.
Pawling said he aims to resume training by Thursday, but wants to focus resources on gathering more information about the crash.
"It's kind of an emotional experience for us," Pawling said. "So this will give us a chance to regroup a little bit before we get back into the flying business."
Hawaii Air Guard F-15s remain on duty to fly, if needed, for air defense missions, Lee said.
The Air Force cleared 13 Hawaii-based F-15s to return to flight duty on Jan. 9. But seven fighters remain grounded pending certification from the Pentagon.
Friday's crash is the fifth F-15 crash since May of last year.
Some experts who follow military readiness say Friday's incident is another indication that the F-15 needs to be replaced.
The fighters were designed during the Vietnam War, said Loren Thompson, chief operating officer of the Lexington Institute, an Arlington, Va.-based public policy think tank.
"The F-15 fleet is starting to literally fall out of the sky," Thompson said. "Even before the planes started crashing, they were flying on flight restrictions because of metal fatigue."
It's too early to tell what Friday's crash may mean for the F-15s future since the cause has not been identified, said John Pike, director of Virginia-based online database GlobalSecurity.org.
"Having said that, these planes have been around for a long time," Pike said. "You can foresee a time when they're going to phase out the F-15."
The Air Force would like to replace the F-15 with the new F-22. Hawaii's planes are scheduled to be replaced in 2010.
But the F-22 program is under fire because of its cost -- about $159 million per plane.
Recent F-15 crashes
Friday's F-15 crash here was the fifth crash since May of last year. The other incidents were:
» Nov. 2: A Missouri Air National Guard F-15 broke apart in midair, injuring the pilot. The cause was blamed on structural problems.
» June 26: An F-15 from the Oregon Air National Guard's 142nd Fighter Wing went down in the Pacific Ocean during a training mission with other aircraft, killing the pilot.
» June 11: an F-15C fighter collided in midair with an F-16C and crashed near Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska during a training exercise.
» May 30: A Missouri Air National Guard F-15 crashed in southwestern Indiana during a training mission with the Indiana Air National Guard.