The fleet of F-15 jets at England’s RAF Lakenheath continues to be grounded as Air Force investigators work to unravel what caused the Friday crash of a Missouri Air National Guard fighter, which resulted in non-life-threatening injuries to the pilot.

On Saturday, the U.S. Air Force suspended all noncritical flight operations for the F-15 series after preliminary indications revealed structural failure was an apparent factor.

Air Force officials on Monday could not say when the Air Force’s 700-plus fleet of F-15s would be back in the air.

“The stand down of the fleet is a precautionary safety measure,” according to an Air Force news release. “In compliance with this direction, all of RAF Lakenheath’s F-15s are suspended.”

Lakenheath is home to three combat-ready F-15 squadrons.

While the planes are grounded, the Air Force said it will ensure mission requirements continue to be accomplished.

F-15 flight operations in the Middle East supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom are considered mission-critical and not affected by the suspension, according to the Air Force.

The F-15, which began operating in 1975, eventually will be replaced by the F-22 Raptor, according to the Air Force.

The F-15C Eagle involved in Friday’s crash landed on private property in southern Missouri.

The one-seater plane, a 1980 model worth about $40 million, was from the Missouri Air National Guard’s 131st Fighter Wing, based at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport, The Associated Press reported.

Col. Robert Leeker, commander of the 131st Fighter Wing, said the plane was among four that engaged in one-on-one training fights in which speeds of 400 to 450 mph are typical. The other planes returned safely.

Another Missouri Air National Guard fighter crashed in May after taking off from Lambert. That fighter, an F-15D, had been conducting drills about eight miles south of Vincennes, Ind., when a jammed cable caused it to crash.

An Air Force investigative report is due within 60 days.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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John covers U.S. military activities across Europe and Africa. Based in Stuttgart, Germany, he previously worked for newspapers in New Jersey, North Carolina and Maryland. He is a graduate of the University of Delaware.

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