Things are beginning to look gloomy for the F-15. The US Air Force has so far found four [UPDATE - seven] Eagles with cracks in fuselage longerons and Air Combat Command has grounded all 442 of its F-15A to D models until further notice, even if they pass inspections intended to find the cracks. The decision comes after investigators discovered additional cracks in the Missouri Air National Guard F-15C that crashed on 2 November after suffering stuctural failure during air combat training.
The crash, groundings, inspections and discovery of other cracked longerons comes as the US Air Force mounts an intense campaign of lobbying (and some whining) for additional funding to replace its ageing fleets of fighters, transports, tankers and combat rescue helicopters (did I miss anything out?). I sympathise, but I also come from a country that kept the English Electric Canberra in front-line service for 50 years.
It will be expensive, but the USAF will have to live with the ageing Eagle a while longer. The aircraft has actually done quite well – F-16s had to go through the Falcon Up structural upgrade to stay in service and F-18s are going though a costly centre barrel replacement. All aircraft age – fighters especially – and the process has to be managed. The F-22 and F-35 that will replace the F-15 and F-35 better be designed to last 30 years – and capable of lasting 50 – or our grandchildren are in trouble.
Yes, it IS your grandfather’s F-15 (USAF photo)