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Thu, Jan 10, 2008

USAF Official Says Structural Woes Will Permanently Ground Oldest F-15s

Dozens Of Eagles' Wings To Be Clipped Forever

A possible structural defect in the F-15C Eagle, which led to a November accident -- and, subsequently, the grounding of much of the F-15 fleet -- will likely mean the end of the line for close to 200 of those fighters, anonymous USAF sources told The Los Angeles Times this week.

As ANN reported, the Air Force grounded 452 of its oldest F-15s on November 28, one week after it returned the planes to service following a fleetwide grounding -- including the newest -E model Strike Eagle aircraft -- stemming from the November 2 inflight breakup of a Missouri Air National Guard F-15C.

The Air Force ordered inspections of the aircrafts' four fuselage longerons, which run lengthwise along the body of the plane and hold the aircraft together during high-g maneuvers. Investigators found weakened beams in nine of the aircraft they inspected following the Missouri ANG accident; they still aren't sure whether the beams were defective, or simply deteriorated due to age and stress.

The Air Force will reportedly return 260 of the grounded aircraft to duty soon... but around 180 will likely remain idle forever.

"Many of them may never fly again," one senior Air Force officer told the paper. The results of the Air Force investigation into the problem will be released this week.

Once the Air Force's most sophisticated fighter aircraft, today most of the F-15 fleet is nearly 30 years old. Older models are relegated to duty in Air National Guard units in the United States, while newer F-15Es still fly combat duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Air Force officials have cited the F-15s' structural problems as reason for the need for more new F-22 Raptors. The highly-advanced planes are fast, extremely maneuverable, and stealthy... but they're also very expensive. The USAF wants 381 F-22s, to replace its F-15s; the Pentagon has approved the purchase of 183.

"This is grave," a senior Air Force official told the Times. "Two hundred of our air-superiority aircraft are on the ground, and we are acting like it is business as usual."



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