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Updated Thursday, January 10, 2013 at 06:57 AM

Boeing defective part caused F-15’s breakup in 2007, Pentagon finds

By Tony Capaccio
Bloomberg News

Boeing agreed to provide $1 million in replacement parts for its F-15 fighters in a confidential settlement over a jet that broke apart in midair in 2007, according to the Pentagon’s inspector general.

A joint investigation for the inspector general and the Air Force found that Boeing provided “defective” or “nonconforming” parts.

The agreement reached almost five years after the accident was disclosed in a passage in the inspector general’s semi annual report to Congress last month. The Air Force Office of Special Investigations and Pentagon Defense Criminal Investigative Service conducted the probe.

“Nonconforming products not only disrupt readiness and waste economic resources but also threaten the safety of military and government personnel,” the inspector general report said in a section on “Product Substitution” that summarized the Boeing case.

The pilot in the Nov. 2, 2007, accident, a member of the Missouri Air National Guard, dislocated a shoulder and injured an arm while ejecting after the front section of the jet snapped from the rest of the fuselage.

The joint investigation “disclosed that the Boeing Co. provided defective or nonconforming parts to the Air Force for the F-15,” according to the report to Congress.

The $1 million settlement “doesn’t go nearly far enough toward holding Boeing accountable for the defective parts,” Ben Freeman, a defense investigator for the Project on Government Oversight, an independent watchdog group in Washington, said in a statement. “One million dollars is just a fraction of the cost of the F-15 that crashed.”

A longeron — a thin strip of material to which the aircraft’s skin is fastened — failed, causing the “in-flight break-up” during a basic flight-training mission, according to the report.

“The agreement that Boeing and the Air Force reached on this longeron issue is covered by confidentiality provisions that prevent us from commenting, beyond saying that it doesn’t include an admission of liability by Boeing,” Patricia Frost, a spokeswoman for Boeing, said in an emailed statement.

Citing the confidentiality agreement, Frost declined to say whether the replacement parts have been delivered. Each F-15 has two upper and two lower longerons, support structures that run along the length and side of the aircraft.

Air Force spokesman Charles Gulick didn’t respond to requests for comment.

All 441 of the F-15 fighter interceptors were grounded after the jet breakup, and 182 were found to have major structural components that didn’t meet original manufacturing specifications, service officials told reporters in a January 2008 news conference.

Most of the F-15s grounded were cleared to return to flight by February 2008 after undergoing additional inspections as the investigation was begun.

“The cause of the accident was determined to be failure of the upper-right longeron,” according to the inspector general’s summary of the investigation.

The contract specification required the longeron to be 0.10 inches (0.25 centimeters) thick, according to the report.

“The investigation revealed that the Boeing-supplied longerons varied in thickness from 0.039 to 0.073,” the inspector general said.


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