An Israeli Air Force (IAF) F-15I Ra’am that had been involved in a crash-landing last year has completed repairs and is now flying again.
A press release from the IAF on August 31 provided details of the rebuild. During a routine training flight on December 3, 2021, two Reserve pilots flying the F-15I (serial 212) from No 69 ‘The Hammers’ Squadron, discovered after take-off that they were unable to retract or lower the starboard main undercarriage leg, which became stuck partially retracted. After various unsuccessful attempts to free it, the crew made an emergency landing back at Hatzerim Air Base (AB) on just the nosewheel and port main undercarriage, with fire trucks and ambulances alongside the runway in readiness for the worst-case scenario.
The aircraft successfully hooked the emergency safety cable but inevitably, however, the aircraft eventually settled onto the starboard wingtip as it came to a halt. Fire trucks immediately sprayed the aircraft with water to prevent fire breaking out while rescue teams assisted the pilot and navigator crew members to exit the aircraft. They were unhurt but were checked over on site by medical personnel as a precaution.
After recovery of the stricken aircraft, a full maintenance inspection and assessment was made to determine the full extent of the damage, which was found to be extensive and thus consideration was given to declaring it a write-off. However, it was determined that it could be repaired and work began on what became a seven-month rebuild. Lt Col Moshe, Commander of the Material Department in the 22nd AMU (Aerial Maintenance Unit) at Tel Nof AB recalled: “Right after the incident, it was clear that the aircraft would come to us for a rehabilitation process.” The unit is trusted with repairing aircraft down to the smallest of details and being able to rebuild the aircraft starting from scratch and its achievements are many.
“The day after the plane arrived at our unit, Maj Gen (res) Amikam Norkin, the former Commander of the IAF, visited us and asked: “When does the Ra'am fly again?” so we immediately answered that we need to see what will happen going forward – we estimated that there's a significant chance that he won't return to its former state.” Lt Col Moshe said: “The Ra'am aircraft has immense operational importance in the force and ,for that reason, we didn't want to decommission it. Therefore, the mission of fixing the Ra'am was the first priority and everyone in the unit was motivated to do it.”
After the accident, the unit debriefed the rare malfunction that had occurred. When they accurately identified it, the lessons were learned, and a series of tests were performed on the other aircraft to ensure that such an incident would not recur. "We started a race to repair the plane and all the damaged parts,” said Lt Col Moshe. He continued: “We called the company that made the plane and asked them for replacement parts. The company answered that it does not have parts available, but there are drawings and from them, it is possible to prepare new ones, but it will take two years. So we decided to create them on our own.”
In addition, he clarified that due to the forces exerted on the aircraft during flight, its parts undergo minor changes that change its anatomy over time. As a result, the new parts had to be prepared in a slightly different way so that they would fit into the aircraft just like the old ones.
“We scanned every part that the plane needed with a 3D scanner. Then, we tried to reconstruct what it looked like before the accident. We knew what the part was supposed to look like according to the designs, but the subtle changes it underwent over time are important. We created new spare parts from scratch from good, strong materials and deliberately made them a bit 'defective', like before the accident. In the body of the plane, everything must be accurate and harmonious to within one-tenth of a millimetre,” Moshe stated.
“Not only the production but also the assembly had to be done accurately,” emphasized Lt Col Moshe, "we deployed a laser system around the plane, which could tell if each component was sitting in exactly the right place. Exactly, again, to the level of within one-tenth of a millimetre. This was done so meticulously that we blocked the traffic for vehicles around the garage because every car that passed by moved the parts a bit.”
Against all odds, after only seven months, they managed to revive the aircraft, and not just revive it – the unit repaired the aircraft to the point of being flawless. “At first, we feared it'd come back with weight-bearing or speed limits. But, in the end, it didn't happen and it came out of here like new,” said Lt Col Moshe proudly. After being fixed, it underwent a number of test flights at the IAF's FTC (Flight Testing Centre) squadron, which confirmed that the aircraft was indeed fit to fly, and at the end of the process, in late July, it was returned to No 69 ‘The Hammers’ Squadron at Hatzerim AB.