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Jetliner Forced to Avoid Stealth Fighter

September 08, 2000|From Times Staff and Wire Reports

A United Airlines passenger plane was forced to avoid an Air Force stealth fighter shortly after takeoff from Los Angeles on Thursday.

The Boeing 757, bound for Boston, was climbing to cruising altitude and was at 10,800 feet when the pilot told officials that he was in a direct path with a "stealth-type military aircraft," said Jerry Snyder, a spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration.

United spokeswoman Chris Nardella said the "equipment alerted the crew to level off" until the military jet passed overhead. She said the plane was carrying 166 passengers and seven crew members.

The pilot of United Flight 174 estimated the distance between his aircraft and the fighter to be 500 feet vertically and six-tenths of a mile horizontally, FAA spokesman Eliot Brenner said.

Near airports, aircraft must normally keep a distance of three miles. Outside the airport zone, that distance widens to five miles, Brenner said.

Edwards Air Force Base spokesman Dennis Shoffner said the incident involved an Air Force F117A Night Hawk assigned to the 410th Flight Test Squadron, which flies out of Palmdale and reports to Edwards.

"The F117, on a training flight, was not in stealth configuration and was flying according to FAA rules," Shoffner said. "The F117 has a standard transponder to alert other aircraft of its presence."

The United pilot continued on to his destination without further incident, Brenner said.

The FAA and United each have launched an investigation, and officials at the National Transportation Safety Board, which investigates air traffic control problems, said it was looking into the matter.

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