“Other Than That, How Was Your Flight?”

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Air Force

Training for war – flying a jet fighter at low altitudes, for example – can be an unforgiving business. That’s the bottom line from an F-15 crash last October 24 in Nevada. The pilot wasn’t badly hurt, but the $32 million plane was totaled.

Accident investigators said they were unable to determine the cause of the crash, which happened as the pilot was testing new hardware and software designed to improve the plane’s “short-range detection, maneuvering, and two-ship engagement” capabilities:

There were several things that hampered the probe:

The MA was not equipped with a crash-survivable flight data recorder. Additionally, the MP failed to power two other recording systems and did not enter into the local Fighter Data Link (FDL) network. The most reliable evidence found was MP testimony, local airspace control facilities radar plots of the MA’s initial maneuvering, and pictures taken late in the mishap sequence by a civilian who happened to be observing the MA’s maneuvers.

(Where else do you think they got the two incredible photos at the top and bottom of this piece — not to mention a third, of the plane in a steep dive shortly before it crashed?)

While investigators could pinpoint no single cause of the accident, they cited six contributory factors to the crash, spread among the pilot, the aircraft and the mission (the pilot told investigators he [according to a local contemporaneous press report, the unidentified pilot was male; the pilot’s gender was not specified in the investigation] was “starting to get that ground rush” shortly before bailing out 1,400 feet above ground). Combined, in sequence, those six factors apparently drove the plane out of control:

“There was a mishap due to a unique alignment in sequence, time, and interrelationship–all had to occur for the chain to be complete,” wrote Air Force Lieut. Colonel Dylan T. Wells, the accident investigation board president. “The final conclusion is this perfect storm will happen again.”

Air Force