- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 4, 2005

ASSOCIATED PRESS

The front-line fighter jet of the Navy and Marines has been in a series of recent accidents blamed on brake failure, exposing a problem that has spurred urgent warnings from commanders, military documents obtained by the Associated Press show.

Brake problems affecting the F/A-18 Hornet pose “a severe hazard to Naval aviation” that could kill pilots and ruin valuable aircraft, a Navy air wing commander wrote last year after one of his jets roared off a runway and splashed into San Diego Bay, destroying the $30 million plane.

Many of the brake failures have been traced to a $535 electrical cable — about as thin as a drinking straw — that controls the jet’s anti-skid brakes, the equivalent of anti-lock brakes on a passenger car. Investigators say the cable can chafe or break because it runs close to where heavy tie-down chains secure the jets to a carrier deck.

In the San Diego crash, Navy investigators cited “a trend of similar, if not identical, emergencies” that date to 1990 but went unnoticed until a series of failures last year, according to records AP obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

One Navy pilot aborted a landing last fall when his brakes failed after a combat mission over Iraq. He took off again, circled the runway in Kuwait for a second landing attempt, then lowered his tailhook and caught the emergency arresting cable on the ground. He was not hurt and there was no damage to the jet.

A month earlier, a Marine commander was seriously injured when he ejected after he lost his brakes landing on a short runway at the Marine Corps base at Quantico, Va. Other failures have occurred as recently as February.

Making matters worse, some pilots did not know the proper procedures for brake emergencies and took actions that contributed to crashes, the records show.

The Navy ordered fleetwide inspections last fall and is continuing to investigate whether it needs to redesign the Hornet’s brakes, as some commanders have urged.

“This matter is by no means closed,” said Navy spokesman James Darcy.

The maker of the jet, Boeing Co., deferred comment to the Navy.

The U.S. military owns 561 Hornets, including those flown by the elite Blue Angels aerobatic team. Collectively, they represent a mainstay of Navy and Marine aviation, operating from both aircraft carriers and runways. They drop bombs and dogfight. They flew more than 50,000 sorties during the height of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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