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Oh, Great

Josh White of the Washington Post reports that Flaws may ground older F-15s indefinitely

Air Force inspectors have discovered major structural flaws in eight older-model F-15 fighters, sparking a new round of examinations that could ground all of the older jets into January or beyond, senior Air Force and defense officials said.

The Air Force’s 442 F-15A through F-15D planes, the mainstay of the nation’s air-to-air combat force for 30 years, have been grounded since November, shortly after one of the airplanes broke into large chunks and crashed in rural Missouri. Since then, Air Force officials have found cracks in the main support beams behind the cockpits of eight other F-15s, and they fear that similar problems could exist in others.

Some outside analysts have said that the F-15 problems can be fixed and that the extra F-22s are unnecessary. “I don’t suspect that the Air Force is lying when it says it has discovered stress fractures in the longerons of the F-15s,” said Winslow Wheeler, an expert at the Center for Defense Information and a longtime opponent of purchasing additional F-22s. “But there’s no big deal about that. Fix it.”

Wheeler said Congress should look into the F-15 issue. In another prominent case, involving refueling tankers, several independent study panels concluded that the Air Force had exaggerated the structural consequences of aging for older planes so that it could make a better case for leasing new ones.

Oh, yeah – “Fix it”, just like you “fix it” when the frame of a car is bent in an accident – oh, wait, the insurance companies total the car because it is unsafe. Sure, just replace it by removing all of the bolts, welds, and rivets that are attached to the aircraft’s spine, and then put in a new one after you pay to have them manufactured because the line is shut down.

The vehicles being used in Iraq where expected to last 9 years, and they are unusable after 5. These aircraft have been on the line for 30 years and the maintenance costs are soaring. If the heaviest piece of metal framing in the airframe is cracking, when do the wing spars crack? How many pilots have to die, how many people on the ground have to die, before the decision is made that new aircraft are necessary?

As for the tanker deal, people went to jail over the fraud involved in that leasing deal. Boeing should have been banned from military contracts, but that will never happen because the military-industrial complex protects its own. New tankers are needed because the KC-135s are older than the F-15s, but the leasing was a rip off.

6 comments

1 Steve Bates { 12.23.07 at 1:29 am }

Now there’s an instance of Josh White singing the blues!

The ravages of time reach everything eventually, and military aircraft undergo more stresses than most things. As one who drives a 13-year-old car… a friend long ago referred to such cars as “automobiles of character” … I hope the powers-that-be recognize the futility of repairing and continuing to use aircraft that are so old… how old are they? … old enough that if they were cars, they would be acknowledged as antiques.

Our pilots did not create the godawful situation in which they fight today: the Bushists have that dishonor. Our pilots should not have to pay needlessly with their lives for bad decisions higher up the command chain, i.e., at its top.

2 Cookie Jill { 12.23.07 at 2:53 am }

Can’t raise taxes, you know. Everyone doesn’t want to pay taxes. The money to “fix” these things or to buy new ones just “magically” appear.

I’m sure that the weather at some of these bases also contribute to metal fatigue and general breakdown of planes.

(still can’t get over you survived -42 at the base in Alaska!)

3 Bryan { 12.23.07 at 4:12 pm }

Steve, they have been waiting on and wasting money on the F-22 Raptor and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, when they could have, at a minimum been building F-15s, F-16s, and FA-18s to replace those that are aging out. These aircraft are all capable of pulling enough G’s in maneuvers to kill a pilot, so there are limits on the controls to prevent it, but, as has been demonstrated, you flex them in flying often enough and they will snap.

If you schedule modest delivery schedules every year, you don’t have to make huge increases. It’s the all or nothing budgeting that has been occurring that causes these problems, Jill. They buy nothing for a period and then want to take delivery of dozens of aircraft at one time – it’s stupid.

We had it better than our counterparts at Mys Shmita in Siberia who regularly saw -100° in the winter. A snow cave is 32° inside and a candle will raise it to 40° – that’s the purpose of survival school, to learn this stuff. It is annoying that your hair freezes and breaks.

4 Cookie Jill { 12.25.07 at 1:09 pm }

-100???!!!! Holy C**p.

Human icicles.

5 Bryan { 12.25.07 at 9:08 pm }

Tires break like glass and metal gets very brittle at those temperatures, Jill. We did our best not to do anything that would cause them to have to send out a patrol in the winter, as it would be risky, indeed, just trying to get airborne.

6 Terry { 12.25.07 at 11:14 pm }

The design has served 25 years honorably, but now the early modes are experiencing metal fatique…no shocker there. These planes are under far more stress than the B-52 which has lasted >50 years.

As to the notion that dogfighting is out of date in these days of missiles; that argument was made back in the days when the F4 was being designed and it fame out without guns because “misslies can do it all”. WRONG. So many F4’s were lost in the early days of Viet Nam that gun pods were rapidly added to its wings and later the nose was modified to house them. As soon as these ‘hit the street’ the kill ratio for the F4’s improved dramatically and stayed there.

So much for the “death” of dogfighting 😛

Today the same argument is being made by the same kind of morons at Time.

As to the path from here….obviously the older planes need replacing, but with what?

The first information we need to know is will existing designs be able to win dogfights with the planes Russia and China are coming out with because sooner or later they’ll be for sale and we’ll have to face them.

First is the upcoming Sukhoi Su-34. It has rear-facing radar, meaning it can shoot R-73 or R-77 anti-aircraft missiles at planes behind it. This gives it a major advantage over line fighters like the F-15, F-16 and others because of their lack of stealth….which is at its heart radar avoidance.

Next are fighters with a feature called ‘thrust vectoring’. Thrust vectoring means the jet’s exhaust nozzle can be moved so as to steer the plane in ways wing and tail surfaces can never do. Such aircraft can perform extreme maneuvers that leave conventional aircraft at a severe disadvantage.

F-15’s and F-16’s are in big trouble if they have to dogfight a thrust vectored plane.

What potential adversaries are making thrust vectored fighters? Russia and China. Examples:

Sukhoi Su-30MKI
Sukhoi Su-30MKM

with more coming from China in the form of expected upgrades of their Super-10 and JF-17.

Eventually Russia and China will do as they always does and sell these to whoever wants them. At that point our current fighters will be at a severe disadvantage.

Has the US tested thrust vectored versions of the F-15 and F-16? Yes, but none have been approved, and even if they were these planes would still lack stealth because of their materials and lack of internal weapons stowage.

So….what aircraft could we field to mitigate these advances?

The F-22 and the F-35 Lightning II. Both are stealth fighters, and with the retirement of the F-117 stealth fighter (which was never a fighter, it’s a light bomber) they will be our main stealth forces that aren’t a bomber. As such both would stand a far better chance against the SU-34’s rear-firing missiles than anything else in the inventory.

In terms of thrust vectoring the F-22 has it but not as advanced a version as the Sukhoi’s which are 3D (pitch and yaw) while the F-22, Super10 and JF-17 are 2D (pitch only).

2D is better than nothing until the budget morons come to their senses or update the F22 to 3D vectoring.