Oregon F-15s to fly again

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After more than two months of being grounded, the F-15s from the 173rd Fighter Wing were expected to start flying again Jan. 10.

The jets have been grounded since Nov. 2 after a Missouri Air National Guard F-15 from Lambert-St. Louis International Airport broke apart during flight and crashed. Since then, all F-15 units around the country have been conducting a series of inspections to look for potential cracks that might have caused the plane to come apart.

"It will be good to be back flying, getting the mission done," said Col. Tom Schiess, 173rd FW commander. "We have been utilizing our simulators every day to keep students and instructors up to speed. However, nothing replaces getting in the jet."

The decision to fly again follows detailed information briefed on Jan. 4 to Air Combat Command from the Air Force's F-15 Systems Program Manager, senior engineers from Boeing and the Warner Robins Air Logistics Center, as well as a briefing received Jan. 9 from the Accident Investigation Board president.

The information included an analysis of the health of the Air Force's F-15 fleet from findings from the Nov. 2 mishap investigation, maintenance inspections and actions completed and taken to date as well as historical science and engineering trend data from F-15 fleet management.

Inspections are more than 90 percent complete for the entire F-15 fleet. Kingsley Field is 100 percent complete with all required inspections. Remaining inspections have primarily focused on the forward longerons. The longerons are a critical support structure.

"The 173rd Fighter Wing has 25 jets in our inventory, but we currently have four F-15s that are released to fly on base tomorrow," said Schiess Jan. 9. "From here jets will be cleared to fly based on further engineering analysis. Four of the 25 aircraft here have cracked longerons that will require at least six months to repair."

Additionally, approximately 40 percent of inspected aircraft in the entire F-15 inventory have at least one longeron that does not meet blueprint specifications. Kingsley Field has 15 aircraft in this category. This is a problem caused 25 years ago when the aircraft were built, but is just now being realized with this accident.

Deviations in these longerons will be analyzed at the Warner Robbins Air Logistics Center. The analysis is expected to take approximately four weeks to complete. Once the analysis is complete, Air Combat Command will be able to better determine which aircraft will need further inspection, or repair, before returning them to flight.