WASHINGTON (CNN) — A manufacturing defect blamed for the mid-air breakup of an F-15 Eagle fighter may cause the Air Force to ground a quarter of its fleet of those warplanes.
The F-15 has been the sole fighter at many of the 16 or so “alert” sites around the country, where planes and pilots stand ready to take off at a moment’s notice to intercept hijacked airliners, Cessnas that wander into protected airspace, and other threats.
Gen. John Corley, the head of the U.S. Air Combat Command, said about 160 of the jets may never return to service after an investigation into the November 2 crash that left the plane’s pilot seriously injured.
The single-seat F-15C broke up in a 500-mph turn during a combat training mission over Missouri, with its fuselage breaking in half behind the cockpit, an Air Force probe of the crash determined.
Investigators concluded that a critical piece of the jet’s airframe broke during the flight because of a manufacturing defect. A defective longeron — a metal strut that runs lengthwise down the fuselage — was cut improperly by the manufacturer, Boeing, and led to a series of cracks over the plane’s lifespan, Corley said. rplanes permanently, a top general said Thursday.