14 Sept. 2003
USAF Thunderbirds Opposing Solo Pilot, Capt. Chris R. Stricklin, misjudged his altitude before beginning his Split-S takeoff maneuver at Mt Home AFB on Sunday, September 14th, 2003. When Capt. Stricklin realized his error, he banked the A/C away from the spectators and ejected. The Thunderbirds #6 jet was traveling at approximately 250 MPH, just 140 feet above the runway at the time of his ejection. The F-16 struck the runway and exploded less than ONE SECOND after Capt. Stricklin had safely ejected.
The Split-S maneuver at takeoff calls for a "limiter pull". This was supposed to be a pull on the Angle of Attack (AOA) limiter, which flies the jet at Max coefficient of lift and yields the tightest possible turn for the given energy state. Capt. Stricklin pulled back on the stick approximately 1000 feet too low, at approximately 2500 feet above ground level, and found himself in a position where he couldn't complete his maneuver safely. Neither Stricklin nor his ground backup noticed the error when he called his altitude at the apex of the Split-S.
It is unfortunate that neither Capt. Stricklin or his ground backup realized his mistake soon enough to abort the maneuver and save his jet; but he did make all the right decisions once he realized that he was too low to complete the maneuver safely. He steered his jet away from the crowd and got out. His mistake cost him the completion of his tour with The Thunderbirds, but he lives to fly another day.
No one was hurt in, or as a result of, this crash. Capt. Stricklin was transferred to another squadron at the completion of his Pilot Review Board and was returned to flying status. The Thunderbirds resumed their schedule in October and completed their season with just five pilots. They will add a sixth pilot and return to business as usual in March.
The Accident Report
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.
Courtesy of Air Combat Command News Service