USAF Thunderbird Ejection
Pilot error caused a U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds F-16 to crash at an air show on Sept. 14 at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, the Air Force said on Wednesday. (See below for in-cockpit video of the crash.) The pilot incorrectly climbed to 1,670 feet AGL instead of 2,500 feet before initiating the pull-down to the Split-S maneuver, according to the Air Force news release. The pilot, Chris Stricklin, 31, apparently flew by mistake to the MSL altitude used when practicing the maneuver at his home base, Nellis AFB in Nevada, which is 1,000 feet lower than the Idaho field elevation. The pilot ejected just eight-tenths of a second before impact, after reportedly making an effort to steer the aircraft away from the crowd of about 85,000 ... and now works at the Pentagon, in Washington, D.C. Stricklin suffered minor injuries. The F-16, valued at $20.4 million, was destroyed.
When Stricklin realized something was wrong, he exerted maximum back stick pressure and rolled slightly left to ensure the aircraft would impact away from the crowd should he have to eject, the Air Force said. He ejected when the aircraft was 140 feet above the ground. 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 to occur, including the requirement for demonstration pilots to convert AGL elevations to MSL altitudes, and performing a maneuver with a limited margin of error. Instead of just zeroing the altimeter to deck level as a result of the crash, procedures have been changed to require that Thunderbird pilots climb an extra 1,000 feet before starting the Split-S maneuver. Pilots must also call out their altitude to the ground safety operator in MSL rather than AGL numbers.