Losing the canopy at 30,000 feet isn't the worst thing that can happen to a person in a fighter jet, but it's still a hell of an unpleasant experience. But it didn't matter to the crew of an Israeli Air Force F-15.
The two-person crew braved battering winds and freezing temperatures after their cockpit canopy detached in mid-flight, leaving them exposed to the elements, and landed the jet at a nearby military airfield. It’s only the third time in history a F-15 cockpit has detached in flight, and in all three cases aircrews were able to safely land their planes.
The incident took place on January 2, involving a two-seat F-15 that took off from Tel Nof airfield in central Israel. The aircraft quickly climbed to 30,000 feet on a southerly heading. Suddenly the crew heard a loud noise—and saw the cockpit canopy disappear. As the canopy fell to earth out of view, the two pilots were suddenly exposed to high winds, turbulence, and a deafening noise. Loss of the canopy also exposed the pilots to freezing temperatures of -45 degrees Celsius/-49 degrees Fahrenheit.
An audio recording of the incident posted online by captures the drama of the incident. The aircrew is discussing routine matters when suddenly one of them says, “The canopy is breaking.” Suddenly there is shouting and the sound of rushing wind. The pilot immediately radios ground control, stating, “coming in for a landing at the nearest base without a canopy. Please confirm.”
The pilot and navigator confirm to one another through shouting that neither is hurt. Once that matter is cleared up, they immediately slow the plane to 200 miles per hour and instruct ground controllers they will land at nearby Nevatim Air Base. The pilot informs controllers at Nevatim they'll need to land using arresting cables. (Most if not all U.S.-made fighters, including the F-15, have tailhooks to slow the plane during emergency landings. Ground crews on the air base deploy an arresting gear system on the ground prior to a landing attempt.)
Here’s a U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle using the arresting gear system after a declared in-flight emergency in 2013. The incident took place at RAF Lakenheath in the UK.
The Israeli Air Force has grounded all F-15s pending the results of an investigation.
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