"Legacy" aircraft in our military’s fleet

Non-combatant F-15 flights are grounded, as the Air Force further investigates an incident involving an F-15 from the 131st Missouri Air National Guard in St. Louis. It appears the failure involved part of the fighter plane’s structure. Thankfully, the pilot ejected before the 2 engine jet slammed into the earth. No one on the ground was injured, either.

When we fought BRAC in Fort Smith, one of the most startling things I learned about military aircraft is that those weapons systems identified as “legacy aircraft” are being kept in service longer and longer than intended, because the F-22 Raptor is still under development, and the Pentagon apparently doesn’t have the funds to order enough to replace the F-15’s and F-16’s that have lots of flight time on the air frames.

“I worry about the health of our aging fleet and how sometimes it is not well understood by those our airmen protect,” Air Force Lt. Gen. Gary L. North, the U.S. Central Command’s Combined Forces Air Component commander, said in a statement.

Also, and I don’t understand the politics or the economics behind this — another aircraft is in development. It’s the Joint Strike Fighter the F-35. The JSF is meant to replace the F-16 and the A-10.

Early production lots of all three variants will be powered by the Pratt and Whitney afterburning turbofan F-135 engine, a derivative of the F119 fitted on the F-22. Following production aircraft will be powered by either the F135 or the F-136 turbofan being developed by General Electric and Rolls-Royce. However, in the 2007 US Military Budget, published in February 2006, no funding was allocated for the development of the F-136 engine. The US Congress voted to restore funding for the F-136 in October 2006.

This trend of having to retire older aircraft — or keep them in service longer as the military waits for full complements of replacement weapons systems is called “the bathtub.” It’s a growing and deepening depth through which our commanders, technicians, and pilots must walk, crawl, swim, or fly through in order to fulfill their missions.

STLtoday – News – St. Louis City / County

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