Air Force suspends some F-15 flights after Mo. crash

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

ST. LOUIS -- The Air Force has suspended some F-15 flights, citing a possible structural failure discovered after one of the fighter jets crashed in central Missouri.

All "non-mission critical" flights were suspended Saturday, a day after the Missouri Air National Guard jet crashed in a wooded area about 120 miles southwest of St. Louis, the Air Force said in a release dated Sunday.

The pilot ejected and was released from a hospital Saturday after treatment for a dislocated shoulder, broken arm and minor cuts. No one else was hurt.

The Air Force described the grounding as a precaution, but said preliminary findings indicate the aircraft may have suffered a structural failure. It did not elaborate, saying the crash remains under investigation.

The Air Force said more than 700 F-15s are in its worldwide inventory, although they are being replaced by the F-22 Raptor. They have been in use since the mid-1970s.

The Air Force said it will ensure that mission requirements are met for operations normally accomplished by the fighter. F-15s fly from bases in the U.S., England, Japan and the Middle East.

Air Force spokeswoman Jennifer Bentley said Monday the F-15s will remain available for combat or anything requiring a combat response such as a terrorist attack, but otherwise they're grounded indefinitely.

"It's not a decision made lightly," Bentley said. "Until we can find out what the problem is, it's the safest thing to do."

Bentley would not speculate on how long the grounding would last.

Col. Robert Leeker, commander of the 131st Fighter Wing, said Friday the single-seat F15C Eagle that crashed had been engaged in one-on-one training fights, in which speeds of 400 to 450 mph are typical. There was no contact between the plane and its partner in the mock fight. The crashed plane was built in 1980.

The F-15 was originally manufactured by St. Louis-based McDonnell-Douglas, which was purchased by the Chicago-based Boeing Co. about a decade ago.

Boeing spokeswoman Patricia Frost said the company delivered its last F-15 to the U.S. Air Force in December 2004, but continues to manufacture the aircraft for other customers.

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