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Thunderbirds Accident Report Released

1/21/2004 - LANGLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Va. (AFPN) -- Pilot error caused a U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds F-16 aircraft to crash shortly after takeoff at an airshow Sept. 14 at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho. The pilot ejected just before the aircraft hit the ground.

According to the accident investigation board report released Jan. 21, the pilot misinterpreted the altitude required to complete the "Split S" maneuver. He made his calculation with an incorrect airfield altitude. The pilot incorrectly climbed to only 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 used maximum back stick pressure and rolled slightly left to ensure the aircraft would hit 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 before impact. He sustained only minor injuries from the ejection. The aircraft, valued at about $20.4 million, was destroyed. There was no other damage to military or civilian property.

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.
(Air Combat Command News Service)


Seen in a photo released Friday, Jan. 30, 2004 by the U.S. Air Force, Capt. Christopher Stricklin ejects from the USAF Thunderbirds number six aircraft less than a second before it impacted the ground at an air show at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, Sept. 14, 2003. Stricklin, who was not injured, ejected after both guiding the jet away from the crowd of more than 60,000 people and ensuring he couldn't save the aircraft. The ACES II ejection seat performed flawlessly. This was only the second crash since the Air Force began using F-16 Falcons for its demonstration team in 1982. Nobody was injured in the crash. The Air Force blamed the incident on pilot error. The Thunderbirds are based at Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas.
(Associated Press / U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Bennie J. Davis III)

F-16 crash (28k) F-16 of the Thunderbirds crashing at an airshow
F-16 crash (22k) Closeup of the pilot ejecting

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