Unannounced flights of F-15 elicit protests on Okinawa
January 29, 2005
KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa — One of the F-15 planes involved in an October mid-air collision has resumed flights over Okinawa, sparking a formal protest from three local governments upset they were not notified.
The plane, which was struck when another fell out of formation, had its vertical stabilizer completely replaced. It began flying on training missions last week after receiving a functional flight check Jan. 11, said Air Force spokesman Maj. Mike Paoli.
“The pilot that has flown the aircraft says the performance has been excellent,” Paoli said. “There haven’t been any maintenance issues since it’s been back on line.”
The second plane involved in the accident is being disassembled and flown back to the United States on a C-5 plane within the next month, Paoli said. That plane incurred significantly more damage when its left wing and horizontal stabilizer collided with the other F-15.
“The nature of the repairs was too extensive to bring it back into flying condition,” he said.
The original 12th Squadron pilots returned to Elmendorf Air Base, Alaska, in November, but the planes remained in Okinawa as part of 18th Wing operations.
Okinawans who monitor flight activities from a spot known as “Security Hill” told a Japanese newspaper they saw the F-15 take off at noon Wednesday and fly for almost an hour. It also flew on Jan. 21, the newspaper said.
News of the flights led to an emergency meeting Thursday afternoon of the Tripartite Council, city councils from nearby Chatan Town, Kadena Town and Okinawa City.
“Fears for possible aircraft accidents are still with residents,” said Seizen Miyagi, spokesman for Chatan Mayor Choichi Hentona. “It is therefore important for us to have sufficient information, no matter how small and unnecessary the military might think [that information is].”
More consideration should have been given to resident fears before resuming flight, Miyagi said.
“In the past, parts dropped and a canopy fell off from the same type of fighter jet,” he said. “Residents always have fears of an aircraft accident as long as military aircraft fly over their skies.”
The Tripartite Council plans to file a formal protest with the Air Force as early as Friday, a member of the council said.
The Air Force keeps local officials informed whenever possible, Paoli said.
“We try to keep [Okinawans] in the loop to the greatest possible extent as a courtesy. It certainly was not our intent to keep them in the dark on this issue,” he said.
The Oct. 4 collision, which happened about 115 miles from Okinawa’s main island, sparked protests from citizens and local officials who called for suspending all F-15 flights from Kadena. Pilot error caused the collision, according to an Air Force accident report released Jan. 18.