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Officials begin to clear F-15Es to full-mission status

by Tech. Sgt. Russell Wicke
Air Combat Command Public Affairs

11/15/2007 - LANGLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Va. (AFPN)  -- Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle aircraft are now undergoing a safety inspection that will return them to flying status according to an order issued Nov. 11 by Gen. John Corley, the commander of Air Combat Command.

Each of the 224 E-model aircraft require the completion of a 13-hour time-compliance technical order that inspects hydraulic system lines, the fuselage structure, or longerons, as well as structure-related panels.

General Corley ordered all F-15 models grounded after the mechanical failure and crash of a Missouri Air National Guard F-15C Nov. 2. The F-15s were grounded based on suspected structural fatigue in the Air Force's remaining 665 aging F-15s. The E-models are the Air Force's latest F-15 aircraft and average about 15 years in age.

"We were able to determine, based on initial reports from an engineering analysis, that the F-15E is not susceptible to the same potential cause of the Missouri mishap," said Col. Frederick Jones, ACC Combat Aircraft Division chief. 

The TCTO inspection, he said, is designed to confirm the engineering analysis. 

"Our inspections will be very methodical and thorough ... safety is an essential focus," Colonel Jones said, assuring the F-15Es will not be "rushed" back to flight.

Although the F-15E models are newer, they only represent about one third of the Air Force's F-15s. The older majority of the F-15s are of more concern for Air Force officials.

"What we've got here is an example, in the C model, of what happens when you have an airplane that's about 25 years old," said Maj. Gen. David Gillett, ACC director of logistics.

The Nov. 2 crash also demonstrates the importance of recapitalizing the Air Force's fighter fleet, said the general. ACC's current fleet is the oldest in Air Force history. New systems are more capable, cost less to operate, require fewer people to maintain and can survive modern threat environments, ACC officials have said.

According to General Gillett, it's not just flight safety that draws concern on the aging F-15, but the mounting maintenance costs. 

"What you find is that it becomes more and more expensive to modify [the F-15 airframe] over time," he said "Our costs have gone up 87 percent in the last five years and continue to rise rapidly. Even when you invest in an old airframe, you still have an old airframe."

The 13-hour maintenance inspection is being conducted at each location where the F-15Es are located. According to Colonel Jones, inspections of the E-models in the Southwest Asia area of responsibility have been completed already. Colonel Jones said a similar process will take place for the remaining models (A through D) of the F-15, which are approximately two thirds of the F-15 fleet. Specific details of that inspection are being worked out by ACC engineering experts.

Meanwhile, Air Force officials have stated they will remain engaged in meeting their worldwide mission requirements with safety as the "number-one essential focus." Officials in ACC said the command continues to ensure the integrity of all air sovereignty alert missions and protection of the United States from air attacks.

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