Even before Tuesday's crash in Alaska, the Air Force's stealthy fighter -- the F-22 Raptor -- had the highest accident rate of any fighter in that service branch's inventory. According to the latest statistics provided by the Air Force, which go through 2009, the F-22 since being fielded has suffered six Class A accidents -- accidents that result in more than $1 million in damage -- since entering the inventory.
The latest crash would be the seventh Class A accident.
More telling, however, is the rate for those mishaps. The F-22's five-year Class A mishap rate was six per 100,000 flying, based on a five-year average --higher than for any other fighter in the inventory. But that number is also somewhat misleading, since it is driven by the age of the fleet and the number of hours flown.
In the case of the F-22, which has only been in service since 2002, the number of hours flown was only about 70,000 total by the end of 2009, which limits the significance of a rate that is measured per 100,000 flying hours.
The F-16, by contrast, has a lifetime Class A accident rate of 2 per 100,000 flight hours based on the past five-year average. But the F-16 has been around for more than 30 years; in its early days of flight, it experienced accident rates well above the current rates for the F-22.
"New aircraft always have higher accident rates, which is how many hidden (from the design engineers and test pilots) flaws and technical problems," the Strategy Page website noted after a crash 2009. "The F-22 is expected to eventually have an accident rate of 2-3 per 100,000 flight hours."
The Air Force lost contact Tuesday evening with an F-22 that flew out of the Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska on a training flight. The Air Force has since spotted the wreckage, but a search is still under way for the pilot, who may have ejected.
The Air Force has not released the missing pilot's name, but he was identified today by the Jackson City Patriot as Capt. Jeff A. Haney.