Thunderbirds Accident Report Released: with Photo

Press Releases and Media Advisories, from the US Air Force

(Photo by SSgt Bennie J. Davis III - Still Photographer, USAF)

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.

I love to see airshows, and the Thunderbirds put on one heck of a show. I’m partial to the Blue Angels, but it’s subjective, I know. The act of getting out, 8/10ths of a second prior to impact, took some real guts, and I’m always amazed at our pilots’ abilities.

It’s a cool photo, but I don’t know the source (“the Internet is your daddy”); if it’s yours, please let me know. I’m not trying to rip anyone off.

That said, there’s a 20 million dollar smoking hole because a demonstration pilot cannot convert MSL and AGL? Huh? What happened in the preflight briefing?

Also, that’d be a hell of a pay deduction. I went No Pay Due while embarked on the boat once (long, not so amusing story), and all I owed was 5K. I figure he’d be eligible for pay again during the fourth Mrs. Cinton administration.


  1. Aerospace Genius says:

    “Also, that’d be a hell of a pay deduction. I figure he’d be eligible for pay again during the fourth Mrs. Cinton administration.”

    Aww, c’mon now. You know Pres HRC’s hot-fudge-gooey-sweet-liberal heart will forgive the Tbird’s teeny little oopsie so he can go defend us from the VRWC. Good intentions are far more important than actual results, don’t you think? It was only taxpayer money anyway. There is always more of that laying around.

  2. Somebody’s a little cynical.

  3. I remember watching the Blue Angels, Thunderbirds and Golden Eagles (last one is a precision parachute team) shows when I was 10 or so. I still have autographed copies of show materials from back then. Yes it’s taxpayer money and yes many people would say that it’s a waste to have airhows but then the same folks probably don’t blink an eye at $100MM+ stadiums, art museums, symphony halls, etc… built with taxpayer money. All I will say is that for a little boy way back when (ok a barrel of ME oil was a few dollars then), those shows were more magical than anything else around. And then to be able to actually talk with the pilots was better than a dream come true. So lighten up folks and remember that little boys and girls need something to light up their imaginations from time to time.

  4. Source

    Photo Credit:
    Pilot ejects 0.8 seconds before the jet impacts the ground. (Photo by SSgt Bennie J. Davis III –
    Still Photographer, USAF)

  5. Thanks for the photo credit info! I appreciate that.

    And, it’s a terrific picture.

  6. Bennie J. Davis III says:

    Thanks for displaying my photo…and asking for the credit line. A lot of times military artist are ripped off by sites using thier imagery and graphics as thier own. I’ve already seen people take credit for this image. I take it from your name your a Marine(or former)?

    Take Care,
    SSgt Bennie J. Davis III
    Still Photographer, USAF


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