ALAN GEORGE / LONDON
Investigators have visited Saudi Arabia to consider possible solution to high losses
A long line of crashes of Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF) BAE Systems Hawks, Boeing F-15 Eagles and Panavia Tornados during training is causing mounting concern in Riyadh, London and Washington DC, and has prompted the despatch of investigation teams from the manufacturers.
Losses over the past three years alone have included at least three Hawks, six Tornados and seven F-15s.
The Hawks and Tornados were supplied under the "arms for oil" Al Yamamah deal, with BAE providing training for RSAF pilots and instructors, with the aim of eventually eliminating the need for foreign instructors.
The latest accident was in mid-February when two Hawks of the RSAF display team collided during practice at the Tabuk air base near the border with Jordan. Both pilots ejected safely. It followed the loss of another Hawk two years ago.
In early December a Saudi instructor and student were killed when their Tornado IDS, based at Dhahran, flew into the ground while the instructor was in control. The instructor had already been fined a month's pay as a penalty for undertaking a dangerous manoeuvre.
Six months ago another Dhahran-based Tornado IDS crashed after the instructor took control at low level and attempted to barrel-roll over powerlines. The instructor and student ejected.
A Tornado instructor and squadron commander were injured early last year after ejecting from their Tornado IDS at 2,000ft having failed to recover from a spin. In early 2000 a Tornado IDS was flown into the ground by a trainee showing off to colleagues. At the time the navigator was using a mobile telephone. Witnesses were unsurprised that a mobile phone was involved. "Saudi ground engineers often load live weapons while using their mobile phones," says a source. In early 1999 two Tornado ADVs collided while flying at night.
In the past year the RSAF has also lost five F-15s, either at night or in bad weather. Three years ago two others were lost together with their crew, after colliding.
At the RSAF's request, a BAE team, headed by Derek Reeh, director of flight operations, visited the kingdom last year. They were unable to provide any solutions to the problem and merely gave the Saudis a general briefing on aircraft handling. BAE declines to comment further.
A US team also visited the kingdom to investigate the F-15 crashes, distributing a questionnaire and interviewing aircrew.
Source: Flight International