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The Navy is defending its use of steeply ascending, high-powered fighter takeoffs from civilian airports, despite criticism from relatives of three civilians killed in a recent Navy jet crash.

Rear Adm. Dennis McGinn, director of the Navy's air warfare division, told lawmakers Wednesday that in some cases, steep takeoffs and the use of flaming afterburner jets make for safer operations."I would have some concern about prohibiting afterburner use," McGinn told the House Transportation aviation subcommittee. "It's actually a safer maneuver. It gets the airplane accelerating to flying speed much faster."

The panel is investigating the Jan. 29 crash of a Navy F-14A in Nashville, Tenn., that killed two crewmen and three civilians on the ground. The fighter pilot, possibly showing off for his parents, took off into a steep climb, then became disoriented in the cloud cover and plunged into a residential subdivision, incinerating three houses.

Relatives of the three civilians killed urged lawmakers to restrict high-performance maneuvers by military planes using commercial airports.

"I cannot explain to you the utter horror of finding out that our father was literally incinerated in this crash," Traci Wair, daughter of Ewing Wair, one of the victims, told the House Transportation aviation subcommittee. "The only way to ensure that this type of accident doesn't recur is to prohibit high performance takeoffs at civilian airports."

The Navy crash investigation found that the F-14 went into at least a 50 degree climb, beyond the limits allowed for a high-performance takeoff. The use of afterburners, however, is allowed by the military, even for routine takeoffs.

"There should be no need to conduct any hearings regarding a crash that should never have happened," said Angelia Newsom, daughter of Ada and Elmer Newsom, who were killed in their home along with Wair, a friend who was visiting the couple.

Rep. Bob Clement, D-Tenn., whose district includes the Nashville International Airport, noted the apparent confusion between military and civilian officials. While military pilots speak in terms of high-performance takeoffs, Federal Aviation Administration controllers use the term "unrestricted climb."

Clement suggested that additional procedures may be needed "to ensure that air traffic controllers are completely aware of not only the altitude ceiling on the unrestricted climb, but also what kind of maneuvers a pilot may use to clear a certain airspace."

Unrestricted climbs are valuable for getting aircraft up and out of crowded airspace quickly, McGinn said.