Thunderbird Crash

Posted by in Aviation, Safety

Last September a Thunderbird F-16C crashed just after takeoff during an airshow performance in Idaho. The pilot managed to eject 0.8 seconds before impact and walked away with only minor injuries.

As one might expect at an airshow, there were many cameras trained on Thunderbird #6 when the accident occurred. Even so, this photo showing the $21 million jet just before impact is quite remarkable.

Even more remarkable is this video clip from an on-board camera showing the split-S maneuver and subsequent ejection from inside the cockpit. It’s a 4.1 megabyte mpeg, but if you can swing the bandwidth I highly recommend watching it.

As a side note, the accident investigation report was issued this week. It concluded that the accident was caused by pilot error. The pilot misinterpreted the altitude required to complete the “Split S” maneuver. He made his calculation based on an incorrect mean-sea-level (MSL) altitude of the airfield. The pilot incorrectly climbed to 1,670 feet above ground level (AGL) instead of 2,500 feet before initiating the pull down to the Split S maneuver.

It was a simple mistake. Unfortunately the stakes are very high when you’re performing low-level aerobatics.

Update – Feb 25, 2004: This entry has been receiving a lot of hits, so I thought I’d upload another video of the crash (1.3 meg, WMV format)–this time as seen from the ground. It’s every bit as dramatic as the cockpit video.

Update – Sept 21, 2004: If you liked this entry, there are a few more video clips you might be interested in.