Two Israel Air Force pilots carried out an emergency landing after their F-15 fighter jet lost its cockpit canopy during a training exercise at 9,000 meters.
The pilot and the navigator had taken off from the Tel Nof airbase in central Israel and headed south. During the flight the canopy suddenly detached for unknown reasons, leaving the two pilots exposed to a severe cold of -45°C, violent turbulence and deafening noise.
Once the air crew understood that neither had been injured by the sudden detachment of the canopy, they estimated that they would be able to bring the damaged plane to a safe landing at Nevatim airbase east of Beersheba.
The crew, which had to communicate to each other by yelling, radioed the control tower at Nevatim – some 15 kilometers north from where they were – which was put on alert to prepare for an emergency landing.
The pilots, who were having difficulty communicating with one another and were facing strong winds and biting cold, slowed their damaged plane and began an orderly descent towards the airbase where they landed safely.
According to a senior officer in the Air Force there were no indications or warnings before the canopy detached.
“At what height are you going to stay at,” a voice is heard in audio recording of the incident released by the Air Force on Monday. The sound of the cockpit detaching and subsequent screaming is then heard before Capt. Y. is heard telling the ground controller that he and his co-pilot will be “coming in for a landing at the nearest base without a canopy. Please confirm.”
The plane’s navigator, Lt. R., then asked the pilot if he was all right, who screamed back “Yes, everything is all right.” The navigator then confirmed that he too was alright. They then decided to slow down their speed to 200 knots and recontacted the tower to inform them that they would head to the airbase for “an immediate landing.”
The two pilots were given a medical check when they landed by emergency rescue services and were found to be uninjured.
“It went from 0-100,” the senior officer said. “Imagine you go from the quiet in the canopy to a massive boom and being exposed to all the elements. You have to think, am I injured, is my co-pilot okay? There are many things the pilots have to deal with within seconds.”
“The pilot, Capt. Y., and the navigator, Lt. R., conducted the event in complex conditions where there was a real risk to the plane and crew,” the IDF said. “The plane’s crew was in full control throughout the incident, acted with level-headedness, professionalism and great skill in handling the rare malfunction, and landed the plane safely at the Nevatim Air Base.”
Following the incident IAF Commander Maj.-Gen. Amikam Norkin ordered a stop to all training flights for the F-15 until an investigation is completed.
According to the senior officer, there have only been three similar incidents where an F-15 canopy has detached mid- flight in the world. In 2004, another IAF F-15 lost its canopy and in 2014 a US Air Force F-15 fighter jet lost its canopy during routine training exercises off the coast of Okinawa, Japan. The crew landed at the Kadena Air Base with no injuries.
“This is a very rare incident,” the officer told reporters on Monday. He noted that in regards to the 40 year-old jet, the military is still searching for the canopy.
The air force – which is in contact with Boeing which manufactures the jet – is investigating whether the canopy detached due to a mechanical or technical fault.
“We are already in contact with the American manufacturer to understand the nature of the problem and its source,” the senior officer said, adding that the “F-15 Falcon has undergone changes and adjustments over the years and is still considered to be the most significant aircraft in the Israeli Air Force.”
Most of Israel’s F-15s were acquired in the second half of the 1970s with a more advanced squadron of the F-15 arriving in Israel in the 1990s. The Air Force is set to place orders on several new aircraft to upgrade its aging squadrons, including a new model of the F-15IA from Boeing.
The F-15IA model that the Israel Air Force is leaning towards purchasing is being advertised by US defense giants as one of the most advanced and cost-effective fighter planes ever to be built.
The jet will have fly-by-wire avionics to reduce maintenance costs and advanced sensors and displays with high reliability. The wings have also been designed to be able to use two additional outboard stations to carry a payload of some 13,380 kilos such as 12 air-to-air as well as 15 air-to-ground or air-to-maritime strike weapons which are able to engage multiple targets simultaneously.
Officials believe that a force mix of F-35I Adir stealth fighter jets built by Lockheed Martin along with a squadron of F-15IA would allow Israel to carry out a number of complex operations, including dealing with any possible confrontation with Iran on its borders.
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