The U.S. Marine Corps has ordered all non-deployed aircraft to observe a mandatory 24 hour flight pause following the crash of two F-18s, one crash resulting in the pilot’s death. Two F/A-18C Hornets crashed within a week of each other. The first crash occurred on July 28 in Southern California at Marine Air Station Miramar. 36-year-old Maj. Richard Norton was killed in the crash. The second incident took place near Naval Air Station Fallon in Nevada. The pilot in the second crash was able to eject and survived but sustained serious injuries and is being treated at Banner Churchill Regional Medical Center in Nevada.
Lt. Gen. Jon Davis broke the news to wing commanders on Wednesday. All non-deployed squadrons must take a full 24-hour operational pause within seven days of the announcement. Commanders are allowed to choose the day the pause will occur and are expected to conduct inspections of all aircraft. Marine Corps spokeswoman, Capt. Sarah Burns, wanted to make it clear that an operational pause is different from grounding aircraft; aircraft are not being grounded.
Marine aviation has been hit particularly hard by budget cuts and the looming military readiness crisis. The number of flyable aircraft has plunged in recent years while necessary maintenance is postponed, aircraft are pushed past their recommended lifespans, and mechanics are forced to sift through garbage heaps to repurpose hard-to-find parts. Constant delays in the implementation of the F-35 joint strike fighter have compounded.
Pilots are also suffering from the budget cuts. Pilot training hours have been slashed to extend the life spans of aircraft. Davis was asked directly if the drop in training hours and dilapidated equipment endangered the lives of pilots the day he made the announcement. He told reporters:
“I do not think we’re unsafe, but we’re not as proficient as we should be. We don’t let units fly that are unsafe.”
During the 24-hour pause government officials expect commanders to inspect and evaluate aircraft based on their ability to carry out essential missions.