The Senate Armed Services Committee on Wednesday rejected, on a tie vote, President Clinton's nomination of a Florida state senator and former fighter pilot to be Air Force secretary.

Questions about his flight history and business dealings prevented Daryl Jones from being qualified, his detractors said.Unable to muster the votes needed to endorse the nomination, supporters moved to report the nomination to the Senate floor without a recommendation of approval or rejection. But even that motion failed, 9-9.

Jones would have been the first black to serve as Air Force secretary.

But witnesses at a nine-hour confirmation hearing last week said Jones, as an Air Force Reserve pilot, almost ran out of fuel on one occasion, flew the wrong way on another and damaged his aircraft by scraping the plane's tail on as many as four occasions - twice on the same day.

Committee Chairman Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, the only one of ten Republicans on the panel to support Jones, said Jones had been the subject of "rumor campaigns and personal attacks."

But, Thurmond added, "I do not believe that anyone has been able to prove that Mr. Jones knowingly sought to misrepresent his credentials, to defraud the government, or to mislead this committee."

Every one of the committee's 18 members attended the session and spoke on the nomination, many of them saying it presented the toughest challenge since the panel had issued an unfavorable recommendation on the late John Tower to be defense secretary in 1989.

Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, senior Democrat on the committee and Jones' chief defender, dismissed allegations against Jones as "smoke."

"Where there is smoke, there is sometimes fire. But sometimes when there is smoke - there is only smoke."

But others said they were troubled by Jones' history, including allegations that he was grounded as an unsafe pilot - but insisted to the panel that he stopped flying voluntarily; that he accepted $88 a month in flight pay from the Air Force years after he stopped flying; and that he pressured enlisted men to buy Amway household products from him.

His detractors said he was the wrong man to lead the Air Force at a time when morale is low and the service is having an increasingly difficult time keeping pilots.

"The question is - is this man capable of inspired leadership?" asked Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. "This is the wrong candidate the wrong time."

The committee's refusal to even report the nomination to the Senate without a recommendation means it is dead "for all intents and purposes," McCain said.