September 16, 1997

WHY DOES A $43 million aircraft lose a section of wing for no apparent reason? Is there a pattern to other, infrequent crashes of the F-117 stealth fighter? This being the second air show crash at Martin State Airport in seven years -- a pilot died in 1990 -- is it imprudent to hold these events at a facility surrounded by densely populated neighbhorhoods?

The Baltimore area is fortunate to have eluded a greater tragedy Sunday when the 23-ton Nighthawk fell from the heavens before thousands of spectators and produced no serious injuries. The pilot, Maj. Bryan Knight, ejected just before his plane crashed, then parachuted onto a suburban driveway. A dozen people did suffer minor injuries and a half-dozen firefighters were treated after inhaling fumes while battling the fire at the crash site.

The Air Force already had its hands full after a C-141 Starlifter cargo plane carrying a crew of nine disappeared off the coast of southern Africa, along with a German military aircraft carrying 24 people. The Air Force, meanwhile, has also been working to quell fears that its $2 billion B-2 bomber can't fly in the rain.

The military is fortunate no one was killed in the F-117 crash, which would have added a political element to the aftermath. But without weather or apparent pilot error to blame, it will aggravate some lingering doubts about the aircraft's cost and effectiveness.

Pub Date: 9/16/97

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