October 11, 2001: F-15 Flight Test Safety Record

  • Published
  • Air Force Flight Test Center

The F-15 Combined Test Force at the Air Force Flight Test Center achieved a major milestone when Lt Col Bill Thornton landed his Eagle on the main Edwards runway. With the landing, the Combined Test Force surpassed a remarkable 40,000 flight hours without incurring a single serious mishap since the onset of the F-15 program more than 29 years earlier. No other fighter-type aircraft  ever come close to this extraordinary safety record

Organizations such as the Air Force and NASA conduct extensive preflight planning and preparations for flight tests that reach the edge of an aircraft’s known performance envelope. These projects involve high-risk exposure to thermal, pressure and sonic environments. Dating back before Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier in 1947, a deep understanding of how aircraft systems interact at their limits has allowed test engineers to design safety margins of time, airspeed, g acceleration and other parameters into the “test card” used by the crew. Then, the crew members are empowered to manage emergent risks in the cockpit as they see fit.

National Transportation Safety Board accident data show that experimental and amateur‐built aircraft account for a disproportionate number of fatal events.  The data also show that the first 50 hours of flight on a newly constructed E/AB aircraft are particularly dangerous.  Aircraft modifications show a similar spike in accidents shortly after those modifications are completed.  Accident investigation of these events frequently shows that a robust flight test program conducted by a competent test pilot would reduce the number of fatal crashes. The Federal Aviation Administration's new Additional Pilot Program further enhances flight safety by allowing builders to have a qualified additional pilot be part of the flight testing process..

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