Structural failure?

Posted November 13th, 2007 by lex

The USAF red-striped (grounded) its F-15 force in the wake of the 2 November crash we amature(ish) crash investigators discussed earlier in the month, citing concerns about possible “structural failure.” Given what I could make out of the crash site, the theory seemed bizarre to me – while things that break off in flight do tend to flutter to ground with little forward velocity, they also typically result in a fairly wide dispersion of parts.  The grainy image capture I extracted from online video clearly showed the wingline, empennage and tail of a stricken Eagle, and there was enough debris forward of the wing to suggest the outline of a burned fuselage and nose section.

Taken together with the suggestion of a clockwise rotation I leapt to the conclusion of a right hand, upright spin. Before I took my tinfoil cap off and went to work, I briefly considered – and rapidly rejected – the possibility that blaming the crash on structural failure was a clever way of pushing for F-22 replacements in a time of constrained resources. Because our Eagles, you see: They are crashing.

I wouldn’t believe that of the Air Force though, and it appears that the structural failure explanation may have legs:

Welcome to the original air frame structural design flaw discovered in the F-15 in the late 90’s. In short the tail section wants to fall off. The F-15E’s had already gone into production and the AF didn’t want to invest any money in an aircraft designed in the 1970’s so it was let go.

Without 9/11 they may have gotten away with it but with the Homeland Security over flights and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq missions putting excessive hours on the flawed F-15 airframes it’s only a matter of time before more fall out of the sky and an aircrew is lost…

Well, maybe, but it’s clear that whatever else might have happened the tail section did not break off from the fuselage – unless those two sections had a handshake to fly formation all the way down to the crash site. Which I think is unlikely. Although I am a little relieved to find that I’m not the only guy having a tinfoil hat crisis:

But (what) worries me most is the idea that the Air Force is using this grounding to push Congress for more F-22 funding. I’m not a huge proponent of conspiracy theories, but it seems so tempting to me that the Air Force can’t help but use the grounding to say “see, we told you the F-15s are old and need replacing.” And they know that brining up BRAC issues have particular resonance among lawmakers starved for Pentagon pork in their districts – no matter how antiquated the base may be.

Not that I think that anyone would make up a structural failure to support a new aircraft acquisition. But I wouldn’t put it past some program managers to exploit such failure. In theory.


(H/T to B2 for the DefenseTech link)

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Filed under Best of Neptunus Lex, by lex, Carroll "Lex" LeFon, Carroll LeFon, Neptunus Lex, USAF

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