Louisiana Air National Guard F-15Cs scrambled to intercept a light twin-engine aircraft that ultimately crashed into the Gulf of Mexico last week, according to Continental US NORAD officials at Tyndall AFB, Fla. After taking off from Slidell, La., headed for Sarasota, Fla., the private Cessna 421 strayed off course during its April 19 flight, orbiting erratically near a range area that is part of Eglin AFB, Fla., reported the Associated Press (via the Palm Beach Post). When air traffic controllers at Jacksonville, Fla., were unable to contact the Cessna, NORAD diverted the New Orleans-based 159th Fighter Wing F-15s, which were already airborne, to make contact. When the Cessna pilot did not respond, the fighters tracked the aircraft until it crashed into the Gulf, 180 miles off the Florida coast. The fighters remained on station until Coast Guard aircraft arrived to recover the pilot, who had not been found, as of April 22, and is presumed dead, according to press reports. (Includes Tyndall release)
The Air Force overall reduced its size by 120 aircraft in fiscal year 2021, but kept about the same number of fighter, bomber and attack aircraft, according to data supplied by the service. The F-35 fleet saw the biggest increase while the B-1B bomber fleet saw the largest decline.