Incident Renews Conversation About USAF F-15 Eagle Age and Maintenance Condition.
A California Air National Guard McDonnell-Douglas/Boeing F-15C Eagle from the 194th Fighter Squadron of the 144th Fighter Wing at Fresno Air National Guard Base in Fresno, California raised eyebrows among sharp-eyed spectators during an opening flyover at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, California over the July 4th holiday.
As the nice-looking four aircraft formation of F-15C Eagles flew over the stadium for the traditional national anthem opening of the Los Angeles Dodgers versus the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball game a few people noticed the folding pilot boarding ladder open and extended outside the number two aircraft. The telescoping boarding ladder is stowed inside a secure compartment covered by an access panel in flight.
Photos of the open ladder appeared on the Facebook page “Air Force amn/nco/snco” (airmen, non-commissioned officers/senior non-commissioned officers). The page has become an unofficial source of insider information about air force incidents since the U.S. Air Force issued a “media reset” memo on March 1, 2018 directing more restrictive policies for air force public affairs.
While the folding crew ladder on the F-15 Eagle is reported to be rated sturdy enough to be extended during low-speed flight without creating a potential hazard, the inadvertent deployment of the telescoping ladder at high speeds could be serious if the ladder broke off the aircraft and fragments entered the left engine intake creating a “FOD” or Foreign Object Damage emergency. If the ladder opened during relatively low performance flying like a formation flyover, the implications during high performance maneuvering could be more serious.
The cause of the ladder opening during flight is unknown, but it could be from an accidental failure to adequately secured the crew ladder door or from a maintenance issue.
While there is no official word on the cause of the incident, journalist Tyler Rogoway at The War Zone learned that the F-15Cs in the flyover originated from Joint Forces Training Base – Los Alamitos in Los Alamitos, California. There may not have been dedicated F-15 boarding ladders at the facility, necessitating a need to use the internally stored, telescoping ladders on the F-15Cs.
Rogoway also reported he spoke to Colonel Victor Sikora, the “144th Operations Group commander”, about the incident. Col. Sikora reportedly told Rogoway as published in a July 5, 2018 report on The War Zone that, “The issue didn’t make itself known until the jets were on the move and the ladder only popped out once they were airborne. Apparently, the Eagle’s ladder has been rated up to a ‘high speed’ and has no adverse impact on the F-15’s handling characteristics within its tested envelope. Considering the flyover speed is 300 knots, it was in no way a safety factor and the mission was able to continue. All this was decided after a specific checklist was performed and the flight had a good handle on the situation.”
While the incident was not serious, it continues the conversation about the age and maintenance condition of some U.S. Air Force and Air Force Reserve aircraft.
The McDonnell-Douglas/Boeing F-15C Eagle has been in U.S. Air Force service since January 1976 and is also operated by the Israeli Air Force, the Saudi Air Force and the Japanese Air Self-Defense Force. The twin-engine, single seat variant involved in this incident has an outstanding combat record with over 100 aerial victories, mostly in Israeli service.
Top image: The crew boarding ladder protruding from an F-15C Eagle during a flyover at Dodger Stadium on July 4th. (Photo: via Facebook/Air Force amn/nco/snco)