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Air Force Halts Flights for Safety Review

September 23, 1997|From Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The Air Force suspended training flights for combat air crews at domestic bases Monday to focus on safety issues arising from a recent string of accidents.

The rest of the Air Force, including transport and tanker units and warplanes based abroad, will suspend training flights for 24 hours on Friday.

The Air Force had planned a service-wide halt of training flights for Friday, but Air Combat Command, which operates all fighters and bombers at domestic bases, decided to move it up to Monday after one of its B-1 bombers crashed in Montana.

"It's important to remind each individual in the Air Force of the importance of what they do," Air Force Secretary Sheila Widnall told the Associated Press. "This will allow our people to reflect on their mission."

She said she was confident the one-day halt to normal flying routines, known as a "stand-down," will make Air Force operations safer. Despite the recent crashes, the Air Force's overall safety record for the last year has been one of its best ever.

The Navy, Marine Corps and Army are scheduled to take a similar one-day stand-down before the end of this week. Defense Secretary William S. Cohen last week ordered a military-wide stand-down for "a period of reflection" on safety.

It is the first-ever suspension of all military pilot training. Cohen's order does not affect such operational flights as those over Iraq and in support of Bosnia peacekeeping.

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The series of air crashes started Sept. 13 when an Air Force C-141 transport crashed off the coast of Africa. The next day, an F-117A stealth fighter broke up in flight at an air show in Maryland. The day after that a Navy F-18 went down in Oman and a Marine Corps F-18 crashed off North Carolina. Also, two planes from the New Jersey Air National Guard collided off the New Jersey coast last Tuesday.

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