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I recently watched a documentary about the Northwest Airlines Flight 85. The flight experienced a grave rudder malfunction when it was over the Bering Sea and had to turn back for an emergency landing in Anchorage, from which it was about two hours away.

The captain has been quoted:

I would have given a thousand dollars for a rearview mirror. The self-diagnostics of the airplane which normally are pretty good, in this case basically told us nothing. And the control position indicator was really the only indication that we had had that the rudder was malfunctioning. The tail could be coming apart for all we knew. And if it came apart, we probably would lose the airplane...We were just going to have to figure this out.

So, they had something wrong with their rudder, but couldn't figure it out. Wouldn't it have helped if they had the pilot of another plane come and see it?

Since they were heading for Anchorage, couldn't they or the air traffic control have called the Elmendorf Air Force Base and asked for a fighter jet to come and see the rudder of the Boeing 747-400? There would have been plenty of time, since they were some two hours away from Anchorage. You'd also think that each Air Force base has a fighter jet that's able to get to air at a moment's notice. A jet would've easily been able to meet them in the middle and take some photos of the rudder.

There were some 400 people aboard the NWA flight, so it's not like it was a minor issue. For all anyone knew, the plane could've crashed into the ocean at any moment. At least a fighter jet pilot would've been able to pinpoint the exact crash site for a search party later on. What am I missing?

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closed as primarily opinion-based by SMS von der Tann, David Richerby, Gerry, xxavier, Bassinator Oct 30 '18 at 22:36

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    $\begingroup$ By the time they got a fighter there they had already figured out how to fly the airplane so somebody looking at it wouldn't have given them any additional information, what was to gain there? $\endgroup$ – Ron Beyer Jul 8 '18 at 4:46
  • $\begingroup$ @RonBeyer, For all anyone knew, the plane could've crashed into the ocean at any moment. At least a fighter jet pilot would've been able to pinpoint the exact crash site for a search party later on. Also, I'm pretty sure fighter jets have been called to escort planes for lesser reasons too. $\endgroup$ – ZeroOne Jul 8 '18 at 8:09
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    $\begingroup$ @ZeroOne By the time the fighter would have got to them, they'd either have the situation under control or be long in the water, they were that far out. Those fighters would have needed tanker support to get to them too. $\endgroup$ – jwenting Jul 9 '18 at 6:34
  • $\begingroup$ @jwenting I don't think so. In the article that I linked to, the captain says that "We were about an hour and forty minutes west of Anchorage, about 500 miles.". That's some time after the incident started. According to Wikipedia, the range of an F-22 Raptor is 1840 miles, more than enough for a trip to the NWA 85 and back. $\endgroup$ – ZeroOne Jul 9 '18 at 6:41
  • $\begingroup$ Dispatching a very expensive fighter to intercept the airliner would have been useless. A fancy rearview mirror? If the damage was as bad as the captain thought it could be the fighter would not be able to do a thing about it. They figured it out. Also, pinpointing crash sites is the job of EPIRB's, not F22's. $\endgroup$ – Juan Jimenez Jul 15 '18 at 12:39