The air show disaster in West Germany in late August that killed 62 and injured 300 was bad news for the US Air Force, even though Italian jet fighters were involved in the crash. Germans were already nervous in the wake of a series of military jet crashes earlier this year. On a single day in June, for example, three US F-16 fighters crashed on German territory. Two other planes, one French and one American, have crashed near nuclear power plants. The air show disaster became the nightmare some people had said was waiting to happen. But it brought another long-simmering issue to full boil as well. Germans have long had their windows rattled and their peace disturbed by frequent sonic booms — the results of some 70,000 low-level flights a year by US and other NATO fighter planes on tree-skimming practice runs. In the wake of the air show disaster, the German press and many citizens immediately connected the two issues and stepped up protests. Defense Minister Rupert Scholz cut 2,000 hours from NATO’s allotted 68,000 hours flying time, but this has not satisfied critics. The US Air Force commander in Germany, Major-General Robert Rutherford told the newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung that his F-16s will do more training in Turkey as part of an effort to reduce low-level flights in Germany. The Pentagon says it will also make more use of ranges in Labrador, Portugal, Spain and Sardinia.
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