Why Did Our Perfectly Good Airplane Decide to Fall Onto Libya?

President Barack Obama had many

big, heartening messages

to deliver about Libya tonight—the war started at the best possible time, the war is basically over now, our goals have been met, etc.—but he also made a point of mentioning a small, heartening fact: that “one of our planes malfunctioned over Libya.”

Just a little mechanical trouble, not any sort of casualty of war! The armed forces were quick to identify an ”

equipment malfunction

” as the reason the plane in question, an F-15E Strike Eagle, went down outside Benghazi a week ago. It’s pretty much always an equipment malfunction, even when

nobody has retrieved the wreckage

to figure out what might have malfunctioned. Our planes don’t get shot down, even when they’re flying combat missions.

Fine. Let’s say they never get shot down. So: why did one crash? Each F-15E Strike Eagle cost

$42.2 million

in 2011 dollars. It’s kind of embarrassing to think that a ragtag dictatorship could shoot one out of the sky, but isn’t it more alarming for it to fall out of the sky on its own?

The whole F-15 fleet was grounded in November 2007, after an

F-15C Eagle tore itself apart

while flying over Missouri. The pilot went on to

sue Boeing

on the grounds that the plane was defective.