One night last October in the Utah desert, an Air Force mechanic double-checked the landing gear on a gleaming new F-22 Raptor fighter jet. It was five days into the Langley Air Force Base unit’s first training mission.
The mechanic spotted a 5-inch metal pin and an attached streamer fastened to the front landing gear. It needed to be removed before the plane could depart on its late-night mission.
Inside the cockpit, the pilot shut down one of the plane’s two engines. The mechanic reached into the landing gear and pulled the small pin and 3-foot streamer.
In an instant, the piece leaped from the mechanic’s grip and into the still-turning jet engine. Sparks flew. Metal screeched. Stomachs dropped.
On Wednesday, the Air Force released its investigation of the incident and tallied the repair bill – $6.7 million plus.
Both the pilot and the mechanic were cleared of any wrongdoing by the investigation.
I don’t quite get what happened. Seems that the plane was preparing to take off, which is why the pin was pulled, but that the pilot had just shut down one of the engines. The story says that the problem was that the manual wasn’t clear enough on how to pull the pin while the engines were running, but wouldn’t things have been worse if both engines had been running. I don’t get what was unusual.
Oh, unless the pin was supposed to have been pulled before the engines were started. In that case, though, wouldn’t the root cause be failure to ensure the pin is pulled at the proper time?
Anyway, the Raptor is going to be dealing with these sorts of “look how much this cost” stories for years to come. A 5-inch metal pin is going to cause expensive damage to any jet engine, whether it’s on an F-22 or not. What if this pin had been sucked into an F-15? Would the cost have been significantly less?