PENTAGON: small cracks found in one F-22 test fighter plane

Thursday, August 9th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Small cracks have been found in one of the Air Force's six F-22 test fighter planes, but the cause has not been determined, a Pentagon spokesman said Thursday.

The cracks are about seven inches in length, located on the right tail and were discovered during X-ray inspections done on the test aircraft, Rear Adm. Craig Quigley told reporters at a Pentagon briefing.

No such cracks have been found on the other five planes in the test program, Quigley said.

``We're not sure what the cause of the cracking is, why we haven't seen it on the other (air)frames,'' the spokesman said.

The Air Force is trying to determine whether that aircraft had been put through different tests, or whether something differed in the production process that might have caused the cracks, Quigley said.

Technically, the cracks are called ``disbonding,'' because they occur in the layers of composite materials that are bonded together to form portions of the aircraft, Quigley said.

The F-22 is being developed by Lockheed Martin Corp. to replace the Air Force's aging F-15s. The problem has surfaced as the fighter program faces a critical review in the coming days.

The cracks were first reported in the publication ``Inside the Pentagon,'' which said the problem could lead to a redesign of the aircraft.

Asked whether that might be the case, Quigley responded, ``Not that I know of.''

No restrictions have been placed on the other five aircraft, and the problem does not seem to portend cost increases in the testing program, Quigley said.

Last week, the General Accounting Office reported that production of 333 of the planes will cost from $2 billion to $9 billion more than the $37.6 billion Congress specified as the cap for the program in 1997.

Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., chairman of the Government Reform Committee's national security panel, said those predictions of potential cost overruns _ the lower one by the Air Force and the higher one by the office of the secretary of defense _ put the Air Force's purchasing plans at risk.