Thunderbirds Accident Report Released


Freight Dawg
PRESS RELEASE -- Secretary of the Air Force, Directorate of Public Affairs

Release No. 0121045
Jan 21, 2004

Thunderbirds Accident Report Released

LANGLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Va. - Pilot error caused a U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds F-16 aircraft to crash shortly after takeoff at an air show Sept. 14 at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho.
The pilot ejected just before the aircraft impacted the ground.

According to the accident investigation board report released today, the pilot misinterpreted the altitude required to complete the "Split S" maneuver. He made his calculation based on an incorrect mean-sea-level altitude of the airfield. The pilot incorrectly climbed to 1,670 feet above ground level instead of 2,500 feet before initiating the pull down to the Split S maneuver.

When he realized something was wrong, the pilot put maximum back stick pressure and rolled slightly left to ensure the aircraft would impact away from the crowd should he have to eject. He ejected when the aircraft was 140 feet above ground -- just eight --tenths of a second prior to impact. He sustained only minor injuries from the ejection. There was no other damage to military or civilian property.

The aircraft, valued at about $20.4 million, was destroyed.

Also, the board determined other factors substantially contributed to creating the opportunity for the error including the requirement for demonstration pilots to convert mean sea level and above ground level altitudes and performing a maneuver with a limited margin of error.

For more information, contact the ACC Public Affairs office at (757) 764-5007 or e-mail
I would assume this guy will still be permitted to fly, seems like it would be a huge waste of a great pilot, who just happened to have a really bad day on the job.

How does the Air Force usually deal with a pilot error inncident like this, as far as flying privledges go?
I imagine the biggest impact of the accident will be a thorough examination of the team's procedures, particularly their use of nonstandard altimeter settings and how those are derived. They'll probably also add an altitude callout requirement for the solos when performing over-the-top sorts of maneuvers (loop, split-s, cuban 8 and derivatives thereof), just as they now do for the diamond. If you ever have a chance to listen in on their air-to-air show frequency, you'll hear callouts of altitude and airspeed at the apex of such maneuvers, allowing for a cross-check of the required parameters by the other pilots in the formation and the team's operations officer/safety observer on the ground--any of whom can order an abort on the maneuver.

No idea how the AF responds to pilot error as far as the individual pilot is concerned, I'm sure MikeD can address that.