Thunderbird Crash

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.

56 comments

  1. I DO NOT DOUBT THE INCIDENT TOOK PLACE.
    tHERE IS JUST TOO MUCH RESOLUTION ON CERTAIN PARTS OF THE PICTURE ANDNOT ENOUGH ON OTHERS.
    OR SO IT SEEMS. iM NOT TRYING TO OFFEND ANYONE..
    I JUST CAN ACCEPT IT..
    SORRY..

  2. I have been a digital artist for over 10 years. I can take any digital picture and make it look like whatever I want. Im an expert at Photoshop, illistrator, 3D studio max, and Myia.

    I can tell you that this photo is real. If you dont think it is then thats your bad. I challage ANYONE to make a fake that I cant tell is fake.

  3. I have the video of F-18 crash at El Toro on VHS only..

    Both crashes were pretty much the same from a physics standpoint. Both jets came out of looping manuvers too low, and altho the nose of the planes were angled upwards, the inertia power kept pulling the planes down to the ground and they pancaked.

    The thing I find amazing (actually, it’s all pretty damn amazing), is that you see the Thunderbird F-16 completely explode when it hits the ground.. but in the F-18 crash, the aircraft stays largely intact and just skids down the runway.

  4. As far as the THunderbird photo, it’s real. The photographer was in an unused tower on the other side of the runway (which can be seen in the video clip).
    I know the photo is authentic because in the un-cropped version of the photo we can see our parked car in the background. I also videoed the crash that day ( I lost focus when aiming towards the sun when he was at the top of his loop so had to zoom way-back, the plane coming into focus when he was about 1000ft off the ground).

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