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Nevada crash grounds F-22 fighters

Pilot unhurt after ejecting over desert during training mission

From Mike Mount

The Air Force is still testing F-22 Raptor fighters, like one seen here.
U.S. Air Force
Air and Space Accidents

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- An F-22 Raptor, the Air Force's next-generation fighter, crashed Monday night while on a training mission in the Nevada desert, according to U.S. Air Force officials.

The pilot ejected and was not hurt, though the $133.3 million aircraft was destroyed, officials said.

The cause of the crash is not yet known and is under investigation. However, as a precaution, the Air Force grounded the F-22 fleet until further notice. Wednesday's crash was the first for fleet.

The Air Force is still in the testing and evaluation phase for the F-22, which is expected to begin service in 2006. The fighter has been riddled with mechanical and political problems from the start.

Billed as the fighter of the future, the plane was designed in the 1980s as a stealthy method to enter Soviet air space and strike Soviet bombers heading toward the West in a potential nuclear strike.

Once the Cold War ended, the Air Force found a new mission for the F-22 as a long-range fighter with a sophisticated stealth design and state-of-the-art equipment that no other plane could rival.

However, the rising cost of the plane and numerous design and software problems threatened the program, which was almost killed by Congress.

In the end, the aircraft survived, and most of the problems were fixed -- except for the price tag, which forced the Air Force to buy fewer aircraft.

The Air Force has been training the first generation of Raptor pilots at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada and expects the first delivery of fully operational F-22s to Langley Air Force Base in Virginia by late 2005 or early 2006.

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