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 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. (Courtesy of Air Combat Command News Service)