It appears as if one of two jet engines that were retrofitted to augment the plane's original propeller-driven power plants caught fire, and the left wing was seen by witnesses to be engulfed in flames before the plane went into a roll and crashed.
Some reports suggest the jet engine disintegrated, while others claim the engine came right off the plane completely—either intact, or in pieces.
Regardless of the eventual outcome of the investigation, it will most assuredly add weight to the debate with regard to the age of the planes that fill our skies. How old, is too old? And do rigorous inspections effectively cancel out the concern?
The plane that went down was inspected every 100 hours, as suggested earlier. X-rays are conducted annually on the fuselage and structure to look for cracks.
The fact remains, however, that the plane was built in 1962. It was also built with propeller-driven engines. The two jet engines, which were added to the plane at some later date to add thrust during take-off, were an afterthought for which the plane was never originally designed.
Were the engines installed improperly? Was the aircraft structure able to withstand the additional power, the added vibrations and the overall dynamics inherent with the additional engines?
These questions will be addressed and, for the sake of the families of the three whose lives were lost in the airplane crash, hopefully answered.
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Neptune Aviation Services, which owned the Lockheed tanker that crashed on Labor Day, had nine tanker aircraft grounded by that decision. However, it is not known if Tanker 09 was one of them.
This is not the first time that Neptune Aviation has lost an aircraft while fighting fires under government contract. Two other Lockheed P2V planes have gone down previously.
In 1994 a P2V went down near Missoula taking two lives. Four years later another P2V crashed near Reserve New Mexico, killing two men.