”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.”
<img src="http://home1.gte.net/res0cuod/images/f16ejects.jpg" alt=" - " />
Photo by Bennie J. Davis III, SSgt, USAF
USAF Still Photographer
(larger image here )
What seems like a million years ago, I used to teach ejection and parachuting to USAF student pilots. Ironically parachuting (controlling the chute after ejections) was largely overlooked until a “Thunderbird” pilot ejected during an air show in the mid-60s, got a successful chute, only to perish when he couldn’t steer his chute away from the crashed and burning wreckage.
Anyway, one late afternoon when I was leaving work, I saw a T-38 (USAF training aircraft) taking off and run into a flock of birds, ingesting many hapless starlings into the engines. The aircraft stalled and then started to fall. The aircraft wasn’t as low as this one, but when the two pilots (instructor and student) ejected they got successful chute and touched down in what seemed like seconds. The student pilot had been in my ejection and parachuting class only a few weeks prior to the incident. It made me feel pretty good.
Somewhere, another nameless Airman or Junior NCO working at the Physiological Training Unit at Nellis AFB, Nevada (Thunderbirds’ home base) looked at this photo and feels pretty good.