When Lt. David A. Deptula II, an Air Force pilot, climbed into his fighter plane at Kadena Air Force Base in Japan in 2008, it wasn’t the first time a pilot named David Deptula had been at the controls. Lt. Deptula’s father flew the very same F-15 when it was fresh off the McDonnell Douglas Corp. assembly line 30 years earlier.

“We have a geriatric Air Force,” says the senior David A. Deptula, a retired three-star general. When flying that F-15 in 1999, he had to make an emergency landing in Turkey after disintegrating wiring caused a bunch of cockpit warning lights to flash on one after another.

The U.S. military is aging, and fast. Air Force planes, on average, are the oldest in the history of that branch of the armed forces, which was founded in 1947, according to the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a Washington think tank with close ties to the Pentagon. The Air Force says the average age of F-15 C and D models, which make up about half of the fleet, is 25 years. That’s sprightly compared with the average age of the service’s strategic bombers, 34, and refueling aircraft, 47.

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