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KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa — An F-15C from the 67th Fighter Squadron here lost part of the leading edge of its left horizontal stabilizer (tail wing), during a routine training mission Tuesday, Kadena officials announced via a news release.

The incident occurred around 10:30 a.m. over water about 115 miles northwest of Okinawa in the training area dubbed W-179, the release stated. Kadena officials say the loss of the leading edge didn’t affect the aircraft’s stability, and the pilot didn’t experience any aircraft control problems.

The affected pilot’s wingman performed an in-flight visual check to identify the problem. The aircraft took an over-water approach to return to Kadena and landed without problem at approximately 10:50 a.m. Officials said at no time was the local community in danger.

By Tuesday afternoon, maintenance officials had determined the in-flight emergency’s cause: “water incursion into the left horizontal stabilizer,” a base spokeswoman stated in an e-mail. The maintenance personnel determined the water froze and expanded at high altitude, causing part of the stabilizer’s leading edge to break away under the heavy stresses, or ‘g’ loads, that basic fighter maneuvers place upon fighter aircraft.

The spokeswoman stated that maneuvers requiring high ‘g’ loads occur only in training areas far off Okinawa and that normal flight produces too little stress to cause the problem.

She also stated that in-flight visual checks are required after every training mission, and pilots inspect each aircraft prior to departing the training ranges. If any structural problems are noticed, pilots conduct a “standard phased” return to Kadena, which includes decreasing air speed, conducting controllability checks and avoiding populated areas by approaching over water.

The maintenance officials stated the stabilizer could be replaced in about four or five hours, and the aircraft would ready to support Wednesday F-15 training.

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