Power to the People on Grounded Eagles


I want to give our savvy DT readers a collective pat on the back for your excellent discussions on the recent F-15 grounding.eagle-taxi.jpg

Though I absorb quite a few barbs from you at times and deservedly so, in very few cases (sarcasm) it is one of the greatest pleasures editing this blog to see how smart, involved and dialed in our readers are. The issue with grounding the F-15s is a perfect case in point.

Our boy Byron Skinner pegged it right off the bat when he spoke of known structural problems with the F-15:

Welcome to the original air frame structural design flaw discovered in the F-15 in the late 90's. In short the tail section wants to fall off. The F-15E's had already gone into production and the AF didn't want to invest any money in an aircraft designed in the 1970's so it was let go.

Without 9/11 they may have gotten away with it but with the Homeland Security over flights and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq missions putting excessive hours on the flawed F-15 airframes it's only a matter of time before more fall out of the sky and an aircrew is lost...

...The design defect is in the aft part of the air frame where the tail fins connect to the fuselage. If it's a material problem or a structural design failure it still being debated. It was estimated that since it appeared that the F-15's were good for about 20 years before the airframes via fatigue and other stresses would be come an issue that with the restrictions the F-15 was serviceable with in the operational environment before 9/11.

The AF decided to roll the dice and not correct the problem and made permanent the operational restrictions on the F-15's...

Then our friends at Aviation Week (I wonder if they were tipped off by our comments) put together a story on the problem. Heres what they found:

F-15 operations were suspended pending review of a Nov. 2 crash. A possible structural failure was involved in the Missouri Air National Guard F-15C crash, which could have larger implications about the integrity of the entire F-15 fleet, say USAF officials.

Aerospace industry and USAF officials say the fuselage broke in two immediately behind the cockpit during a 2.5-3.5g maneuver. The aircraft had been delivered to USAF in 1982.

In a statement, the pilot said his first warnings were smoke and fumes in the cockpit. Almost immediately he was in the aircrafts slipstream. He ejected and suffered flailing injuries.

Our boy Byron also brought up the BRAC issue...

Let us not forget that they were facing declining budgets, the Soviets were gone, the public was EXPECTING a PEACE DIVIDEND, BRAC and an administration who never really understood the military.

And Av Week, found something similar:

Also, investigators are looking at maintenance practices to see if problems could have been generated by closing down the unit as part of the base-realignment process. An initial USAF analysis found that it was a unique problem with a single aircraft, not a fleet-wide problem.

But worries me most is the idea that the Air Force is using this grounding to push Congress for more F-22 funding. Im not a huge proponent of conspiracy theories, but it seems so tempting to me that the Air Force cant help but use the grounding to say see, we told you the F-15s are old and need replacing. And they know that brining up BRAC issues have particular resonance among lawmakers starved for Pentagon pork in their districts no matter how antiquated the base may be.

Again, Av Week:

USAF and industry officials say fleet groundings sometimes occur every few months for various safety issues. They say senior USAF leadership is using this grounding to push for a larger F-22 force. And while USAF was grounding its F-15s, military officials briefing an international fighter conference in London said that the F-15Cs wouldnt be retired until 2025-30, and that the F-15E will serve beyond 2035.

The accident in Missouri could be unique to that [one] aircraft, a veteran F-15 squadron commander says. And if its not, there are lots of fixes you can make to keep them flying. The pitch for more F-22s is whats going on.

And this was not lost on our DT readers either.

What worries me most is that at some institutional level, in E-Ring Air Force offices in the Pentagon, the decision was made to make a bigger issue of these seemingly isolated crashes than should have been so that a better case for F-22s could be made. Again, I dont want to think this, but when a service makes a decision to define its future with one piece of very expensive hardware like the F-22, its almost too tempting a Devils Bargain to avoid.

But if Byrons right, and there is a long-term structural problem with the F-15, its our duty as a nation to fix the problem or replace the planes as soon as possible. I just dont know enough about the engineering side of this debate. Thats what Ive got our readers for.

Thanks to everyone for your input. And keep up the good work.

(Av Week gouge from NC)

-- Christian

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