The Israeli Air Force has revealed a harrowing mishap occurred last week in which an F-15 combat jet's canopy broke off while the plane was flying a training mission at 30,000 feet. Amazingly, the two pilots, who you can hear talking with ground controllers in audio that the Israel Defense Forces released, were able to maintain control of the plane and make an emergency landing.
The two pilots involved in the incident, identified for security reasons only as Captain Yod and Lieutenant Resh, the first Hebrew letters of their first names, took off from Tel Nof Air Base in central Israel on Jan. 2, 2019. Sometime after Yod and Resh turned southward to begin their training mission, the canopy separated from the rest of the aircraft. So far, it's unclear what happened and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) are conducting an investigation into the accident. IAF commander Amikam Norkin a halt to all F-15 training flights pending the results of that review.
The Israeli Air Force (IAF) has not named their unit or the exact type of F-15 Eagle they were flying, but Tel Nof is home to 106 and 133 Squadrons, which fly a mix of Israeli upgraded F-15B/C/D "Baz," or Falcon, aircraft. With two pilots involved, the plane in question would have been a B or D model, both of which are two-seaters.
The IDF says that technicians are already investigating whether the mechanism that keeps the canopy closed failed or whether the there was a fault in the plane's emergency ejection system, according to The Times of Israel. In the latter case, when the crew pulls the handle on their ejection seats, small explosives blow off the canopy so that they don't go rocketing through the glass.
The only reason that personnel on the ground can take a direct look into the cockpit is because Yod and Resh were able to make an emergency landing at Nevatim Air Base in southern Israel. This was no easy feat.
Flying at 30,000 feet without the canopy, the crew was exposed to bone-chilling temperatures of nearly -50 degrees Fahrenheit, violent winds, and deafening noise. Though the aircraft's oxygen system allowed them to breathe at that altitude, they would still have suffered the potentially serious effects of explosive decompression from the loss of pressurization in the cockpit, too.
You can hear both of the men screaming after the canopy separates in the radio chatter that the IDF subsequently made public. Yod calls out to his back-seater Resh and contacts the control tower at Nevatim to alert them to the situation and request permission for an emergency landing.
"Are you alright?" a Resh asks. "Yes, I'm fine," Yod responds as they begin heading toward Nevatim.
Resh asks Yod to slow the plane down, which would help mitigate some of the wind and noise. Yod then assures the controllers on the ground that they are still able to make it to the base.
"Are you with me, brother?" Yod says to Resh. "Is everything okay? Is your seat down?" he continues, possibly asking whether or not his backseater's ejection seat may have misfired or otherwise ensuring that it hasn't outright malfunctioned. Resh assures him that everything is okay and they proceed to make their emergency landing.
"The aircrew in the plane had full control of the incident throughout," a subsequent IDF statement read. They "acted with calm, professionalism and expertise in handling the unusual fault, and brought the plane to a safe landing at the Nevatim Air Force Base."
The canopy dislodging from a combat jet in flight is an uncommon occurrence, but hardly unheard of. An unnamed IDF spokesperson told The Times of Israel that this is the first time this had happened to the IAF since 2004, when an A-4 Skyhawk suffered a similar mishap. In that case, the crew had to eject and the plane crashed.
It's also not the first time Israeli F-15 pilots have been able to successfully make an emergency landing after a near catastrophic in-flight incident. In 1983, two F-15Ds and four A-4 were conducting an air combat training exercise in southern Israel, when one of the Bazs collided with one of the smaller Skyhawks.
The mishap ripped off one of the F-15D's wings and forced the Skyhawk pilot to eject. In a testament to the robust nature of the F-15's lifting-body design and the skill of the Israeli crew, the Baz made it back to base and, after substantial repairs, returned to service.
The damage in this latest mishap is thankfully far less severe, but Israel is unlikely to write the plane off, regardless. The IAF has a long history with the type and was instrumental in demonstrating the type's capability as a long-range, multi-role strike and reconnaissance platform, something you can read about in more detail here. To this day, F-15s are a core component of the IAF's force structure, complimenting other types, including the country's growing fleet of stealthy F-35I Adir aircraft.
With any luck, thanks to the quick and calm response from Yod and Resh, the canopy-less Baz will hopefully get back into action soon.
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