Pilot Killed as F-22A Raptor Crashes During Test in California

By Ann Scott Tyson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 26, 2009

An F-22A Raptor jet -- the newest fighter in the Air Force inventory -- crashed during a test flight north of Edwards Air Force Base in California yesterday, killing the pilot, according to official statements.

David Cooley, 49, a test pilot for contractor Lockheed Martin, was killed when the aircraft crashed around 10 a.m. about 35 miles northeast of the base. It was the second time an F-22 has crashed; the other crash, in which the pilot ejected to safety, occurred in December 2004 during testing and evaluation.

The crash yesterday comes amid a debate in Washington over the fate of the F-22 program. The Air Force has 134 of the stealth aircraft, which cost about $145 million each. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has said production should stop at 183, but members of Congress have pressed for an additional 20 or more.

The decision over the F-22 will pose a key test for the Obama administration's stated goal of taking what Gates has called a "hard look" at defense spending. That includes possible cancellations of major weapons systems, in particular those with large cost overruns. The F-22 program is among those under scrutiny.

The jet, conceived in the 1980s to maintain U.S. air superiority, has not been used in the Iraq or Afghanistan wars, and some analysts question its relevance, given that the military does not face a significant adversary in air-to-air combat.

Supporters note that the program employs thousands of people in 44 states, and dozens of lawmakers back continued production. The Air Force says the jet combines speed, stealth and advanced avionics that are "an exceptional leap in war fighting capabilities . . . vital to the 21st century Air Force."

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