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Reliability Of F-16 Jets Questioned

Nineteen F-16 jets have crashed in the past 12 months and no one in the Air Force knows why, reports CBS News Correspondent David Martin.

Most of the crashes occurred when the plane's single engine failed mid-flight, but each time a different component caused the problem.

The Air Force isn't considering grounding their main jet fighter because they don't know what to fix, according to Lt. Col. Rob Kesterson, "It would be better if we could focus in on one problem and attack that problem," he says. "It is frustrating from the perspective that we don't have something that we can attack."

The aircraft's engines are checked before every flight and subjected to thorough inspections at regular intervals. They are partially disassembled and even probed with miniature cameras. But Brigadier General John Barry says inspections are only a stopgap, "We can manage that risk with inspections for a period of time," said Barry. "But no, it can't last forever."

Every F-16 pilot is trained in bail out procedures, and it has paid off. No one has been killed or hurt, but Barry says the Air Force knows that doesn't obscure how serious a problem this is. "Having it happen in the safety and security of the boundaries of the United States is a better place for it to happen than over Bosnia or over Iraq."