After crash in Virginia, a brief history of F-15 fighter jet mishaps

An F-15C fighter jet crashed Wednesday morning near Deerfield, Va., a rural town some 150 miles southwest of Washington, officials say. Details are still slowly emerging, but it appears the aircraft was with the Massachusetts Air National Guard and flying from Barnes Air National Guard Base in Westfield, Mass.

F-15 fighters have been flown since the 1970s, with the single-seat “Charlie” version that crashed Wednesday first appearing in the latter half of the decade, Air Force officials say. The service began fielding the F-22 Raptor fighter in 2003 to replace many F-15s, but the Pentagon and Congress agreed in 2009 to cut the number of Raptors planned to 187 to save money. That has kept more aging F-15s in service, and prompted the Pentagon to adopt a variety of upgrades for the fleet to keep them in service for another 20 years.


An F-15C fighter jet is depicted here after breaking away from a KC-135 tanker plane while flying a mission from Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada in 2008. (Photo courtesy Staff Sgt. Kenya Shiloh/ U.S. Air Force)

The F-15 is generally considered to be one of the Air Force’s most reliable jets. But it has had issues. In 2008, for example, an F-15C broke into two pieces during a training mission over Missouri, prompting the service to ground hundreds of planes while it determined what happened. It released this conceptual video to depict the incident:

A joint investigation by the Air Force eventually determined that the problems occurred because defense contractor Boeing provided defective parts for the jets. The company provided $1 million in replacement pieces to the Defense Department in a settlement to address the problem, a move that was criticized by some who pointed out that the cost of a single F-15 is about $31 million.

More recently, an F-15C crashed in the Pacific Ocean in May 2013 while flying a mission from Kadena Air Base in Japan. The pilot ejected safely, and the aircraft was pulled from the ocean later that month. Investigators attributed the crash primarily to a malfunction in a flight control system, and said the jet corkscrewed downward into the ocean after the pilot ejected.

A more modern two-seat F-15E Strike Eagle fighter crashed in an unidentified country in southwest Asia in March 2012 during an exercise involving 27 aircraft, killing the pilot on board, officials said. Investigators attributed the crash to the pilot becoming disoriented and clipping a 377-foot radio tower.

In March 2011, the Air Force also lost an F-15E in eastern Libya while the United States was flying missions to prevent forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi from launching what U.S. officials feared would be a massacre of civilians in the city of Benghazi. The backseat weapons system officer took refuge with Libyan rebels, but U.S. Marines launched an airborne rescue mission to recover the downed pilot. An investigation attributed the crash to a weight imbalance in the jet’s wings that put it in a spin after a bomb was dropped.

Dan Lamothe covers national security for The Washington Post and anchors its military blog, Checkpoint.
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Dan Lamothe · August 27