Celestial Break Up

In a twist from “Man Bites Dog,” a military officer is suing a defense denizen. A Missouri Air National Guard pilot is suing Boeing Corporation after his F-15C Eagle fell apart in flight with him in it. As bizarre as it sounds the aircraft broke into pieces following a routine — albeit a 7-plus G — turn.

The suit alleges Boeing endangered the lives of pilots and should have known the plane was not built to specifications, though it was built by McDonnell Douglas years before that aviation legend was gobbled up by the insatiable Boeing in the late 1990s. An investigation by both the Air Force and Boeing concluded a longeron, or support beam reinforcing the fuselage, “snapped,” because the beam was thinner than specs called for. The beam’s rough finish also made it more susceptible to cracking.

In a fleet of more than 400 F-15s, 149 aircraft were found to have longeron issues. Worse, nine were found to have cracked beams. Though most of the planes have been cleared, inspectors are keeping an eye on the problem aircraft. (Bet that makes the pilots flying them feel a lot better!) We wonder if the Air Force has considered ditching the planes. While it is an expensive proposition, can the Air Force afford to play what seems to be a game of aircraft roulette? Do you want to be the pilot to find out? Probably not.

This dirty little secret could present more challenges for battered Boeing. But how far does its liability extend? What is the reasonable expectation of performance? These planes are almost 30 years old, and they are having this problem after the 25 year mark? (Or has this problem been concealed in some way? Conspiracy theorists want to know.) Other aircraft over the years have been well-known for their flaws. How about those cracking A-6 wings and the aging CH-46? Should the Air Force bear responsibility for not replacing this aging fleet sooner?
Have we sold any of the deficient planes to our foreign friends and current foes? Saudi Arabia might have been the only one to specifically purchase the F-15C, though surfers in what appears to be an Iranian/pro-Iranian chat room seem to love the plane.

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