Other items: Mystery laser beam tracks commercial jet in Cleveland; gay foster parent ban found unconstitutional in Arkansas; and a new election ordered in contested North Carolina race.

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The Pentagon is planning deep reductions in spending on the costliest fighter jet ever built, the Air Force’s F/A-22 Raptor, U.S. defense officials said yesterday.

The fast, agile, stealthy Raptor is scheduled to replace the aging F-15 Eagle, first made three decades ago, as the front-line U.S. fighter jet starting in 2005.

Proponents view the F/A-22 as vital for maintaining U.S. air superiority in the future, but its costs have escalated, and some officials question the need for the aircraft against low-tech enemies in Iraq and elsewhere.

About $40 billion has been spent on the program, led by Lockheed Martin. The Air Force put the current cost per plane at $256.8 million with developmental expenses factored in, and $133.3 million with those expenses excluded.

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About 1,200 Boeing employees work on the F/A-22 in Seattle, assembling the wings and the rear fuselage as well as integrating the avionics and planning and implementing a flight-training system.


Cleveland


Mystery laser beam tracks commercial jet

Authorities are investigating a mysterious laser beam that was directed into the cockpit of a commercial jet traveling at more than 8,500 feet Monday.

“It was in there for several seconds like (the plane) was being tracked,” FBI agent Robert Hawk said.

The pilot was able to land the plane at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, and air-traffic controllers used radar to determine the laser came from a residential area in suburban Warrensville Heights.

Hawk said the laser had to have been fairly sophisticated to track a plane traveling at that altitude. Authorities had no other leads and are investigating whether the incident was a prank or if there was a more sinister motive.


Little Rock, Ark.


Gay foster parent ban unconstitutional

An Arkansas judge yesterday declared unconstitutional a state ban on placing foster children in any household with a gay member.

Ruling in a case brought by the Arkansas chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, Pulaski County Circuit Judge Timothy Fox said the state Child Welfare Agency Review board had overstepped its authority by trying to regulate “public morality.”

At issue was a 1999 board regulation that said gays cannot become foster parents, and foster children cannot be placed in any home with a gay member.


Raleigh, N.C.


New election ordered in contested race

After nearly two months of court fights and wrangling over lost votes, the North Carolina Board of Elections yesterday ordered a new statewide election for the closely contested race for agriculture commissioner.

Republican Steve Troxler leads Democratic incumbent Britt Cobb by 2,287 votes in final results from the Nov. 2 election. That figure was left in doubt by the discovery that an electronic voting machine error in Carteret County had eliminated 4,438 votes.

No date was set for the new election, which won’t take place until April at the earliest.

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A man accused of fatally shooting six fellow deer hunters and wounding two others after he was caught trespassing pleaded not guilty yesterday in Hayward, Wis. A judge set a trial date of Sept. 12 for Chai Soua Vang, 36.

A Florida appeals court yesterday denied a request from the parents of Terri Schiavo, a severely brain-damaged woman, for a new trial in the long-running right-to-die case, according to the court clerk’s office.