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vagabond 10-22-2007 09:46 PM

F-16 Crashes Due To Human Error
 
Would having two engines help?

From Associated Press:

A dreaded noise came from deep within the F-16’s lone engine, shaking the warplane as it made passes over an Arizona bombing range last December. Then came an alarming loss of thrust.

Two attempts to restart the engine failed. Having exhausted their options, the pilot and his student bailed out, parachuting to safety before the plane slammed into the Sonoran Desert, a $21 million loss for taxpayers.

Not all F-16 pilots have been so lucky recently. The accident rate for this workhorse fighter has risen over the past few years, and two pilots have died in the past year, according to an Associated Press review of Air Force documents.

An Air Force official said that one factor appears to be human error, and that pilots and maintenance crews must stay on guard against complacency. Pilot error was blamed for three accidents and the Iraq combat crash last year.

“I liken the problem to a really good football team that drops its guard,” said Col. Willie Brandt, the chief of the Aviation Safety Division at the Air Force Safety Center and an F-16 pilot now flying combat missions in Iraq. “We started well this year and were on track, but have slipped a little. If I have a concern it is in the trend I see there.”

Crashes up despite decrease in flying
In the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, there were 10 “Class A” F-16 accidents — crashes that resulted in death, loss of the aircraft or damage of more than $1 million. (An 11th F-16 crash was counted separately as a combat loss by the military because the pilot was strafing enemy trucks at the time.)

The total was up from nine the previous year, five the year before that and just two the year before that.

The number of crashes has gone up even though the total number of hours flown has dropped steadily over the past five years.

The rate of Class A accidents this year — 3.18 per 100,000 hours flown — was the highest since 2001, when it was 3.85 because of a rash of engine failures.

The Class A accidents last fiscal year include crashes that happened during training in the United States and Italy. The total also includes several crashes that happened during sorties in Iraq while the pilots were not engaging the enemy.

One expert said that it may be that as the Iraq war drags on, the stress of combat is taking a toll on the 1,300 F-16s in the U.S. fleet, and their pilots.

“That might be putting wear and tear on the planes,” said John Pike, director of the Washington-based military think tank Globalsecurity.org. “It might be putting wear and tear on crews.”

F-16 known as 'lawn dart'
The F-16 is known in Air Force circles as the “lawn dart” for its tendency to plunge back to Earth when its single engine flames out, and in most years, engine failure causes more accidents than any other factor. But pilot error was responsible for about the same number of F-16 accidents as engine failure in the past year.

An Air Force-wide increase last fiscal year in destroyed aircraft has spurred the service to redouble its efforts to confront human error, Brandt said.

The Air Force Safety Center housed at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico now has a full-time flight surgeon, an aviation physiologist, a life-support specialist and two aviation psychologists on the staff, Brandt said.

“They are constantly immersed in trying to find ways to improve the human side of aviation,” he said.

On guard against exhaustion
One problem safety experts are on guard against is exhaustion amid the day-and-night sorties F-16 pilots are flying in Iraq.

Ohio Air National Guard Maj. Kevin Sonnenberg, 42, died in June when his F-16 crashed shortly after takeoff from an air base in Iraq. Investigators found he became disoriented while flying in a dust storm at night.

Before taking off at 12:25 a.m., Sonnenberg had complained to his roommate that he was having trouble sleeping, according to an investigation. His squadron mates also said Sonnenberg appeared “slightly fatigued,” but investigators found no proof fatigue was responsible for his misjudgments.

Despite the heavy flying responsibilities in the war zone, pilot fatigue is not a widespread problem, Brandt said. The Air Force has strict guidelines governing rest for its pilots, he said.

Pilots must take at least 12 hours off before showing up for duty, and duty on a flying day is limited to 12 hours, or 10 hours at night.

The F-16s damaged or destroyed in fiscal 2006 were worth about $112 million altogether.

Crash rate much higher in '80s, '90s
The current crash rate remains lower than that seen during the 1980s and 1990s. In the late 1990s and the early part of this decade, engine problems caused the number of F-16 Class A crashes to spike to as many as 18 in one year. Experts pinpointed the problem, fixed it and brought the accident rate down.

There is no indication of such a problem today, Brandt said.

“If I thought there was an issue with the age or safety of the aircraft, I wouldn’t fly it, and neither would most of my friends,” he said in an e-mail.

A constant challenge, Brandt said, is squeezing the human-error factor out of the crash equation.

“We have aircraft piloted by human beings, designed by human beings and maintained by human beings,” said Brandt. “We are the most combat-tested, combat-experienced force on the planet, and we learn more about ourselves and our business every day. But still we are human and make mistakes.”

sigtauenus 10-23-2007 04:47 AM

Two things here.

One, go figure, crashes increase while flight hours decrease. Wonder when they'll figure out if they increase flight hours for us, crashes just might decrease.

Two, its a given that single engine aircraft crash when the engine fails. When they designed these aircraft, and took into account the initial aircraft cost and life cycle maintenance costs, they new up front that losing a projected XX number of single engine aircraft to engine failure was still cheaper than putting in two engines. One serious reason why JSF is single engine even though all of us would prefer two.

ExAF 10-23-2007 08:53 AM

There are 2!
 
There are 2 engines...One in the jet and one in the Aces II (or whatever new model they have). You know what they say...Aces II...Thrust you can trust!

1Seat 1Engine 10-24-2007 11:53 AM

If they're counting accidents at Balad, then no freakin' wonder the rate has gone up.

The place is a fatigue nightmare. F-16 pilots are regularly logging 70-100 hours a month there. It's not like you can get any decent sleep there, especially if you're on the night schedule (out-going artillery, controlled detonations, incoming rockets/mortars).

The flying is so boring there that after five months, all I knew how to do was takeoff/land, orbit in a right hand pattern, and work the TGP.

Add to that that we're landing the airplane much heavier than we ever have on a consistent basis. Many of the accidents in the last couple years have been caused by failed tires or gear in the landing phase. I blame this on high landing speeds/weights because we're usually landing with unexpended weapons and high fuel weights because of limited divert options and forced landing time windows. Not to mention the FOD covered roller coaster that they call a runway.

The 16's are getting older, no doubt, but if they're counting losses in Iraq in their stats, that article is meaningless. You're going to have higher losses in a combat operation no matter how old the jets are.

Albief15 10-24-2007 12:01 PM

Ain't no puss game. Its hard work. Sometimes folks mesmerized by the noise, the Thunderbirds, and our own PR forget that. It comes home to you when a buddy slams into a hill somewhere, or another guy jumps out .5 seconds before the failure to do so would have killed him and breaks his back.

Thanks to the bros still in the game...

PMeyer 10-24-2007 12:14 PM

Word!!!!!!

Clue32 10-24-2007 01:09 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by sigtauenus (Post 251483)
Go figure, crashes increase while flight hours decrease. Wonder when they'll figure out if they increase flight hours for us, crashes just might decrease.

How much do Viper drivers typically fly when not deployed?

Army C-12 minimums are 55 hours semi-annually as per the ATM which is just under 10 hours per month. I was informed of a very unofficial statement / opinion from one of the senior army IP's in the department of evaluation and standards that 15 should be the minimum and anything less than 15 hours per month led to a dangerously undertrained/non-proficient aviator.

My personal belief is that the target should be at least 25 hours per month but I understand those in the fighter/attack world put a lot of effort into preparing for and debriefing every training sortie and you may run out of hours in the month to hit higher minimums.

sigtauenus 10-24-2007 08:50 PM

Out of 40 months in my operational squadron, I had 8 months with less than 5 hours. Five hours. That sucks. Overall average for those 3 years was 15 hours a month.

I was not a good enough pilot to be good at what we do flying that little. The months I flew 2 or 3 or 4 hours I usually ended up with an ass-chewing for something, whereas the months I was getting 25 or 30 hours I was a rock star. Go figure.

Nortonious 10-24-2007 09:45 PM

Leaving for ORBD in a couple of days - kinda looking fwd to another stint at the Baladgio. Stop off in Seville, Spain and get a few good cigars to pass the time...and after a week in country I'm sure I'll be happy to get home. BTW-Just heard the mini-BX has a wi-fi hotspot yee ha!!

ANG Viper pilot mins are typically 6-8 sorties per month (based on experience). I beleive the actives are 8-10. Of course we try to get MX to generate more sorties than this. 20 hrs is a pretty good TRAINING month in the fighter business.

Yep, the Ops Tempo in Balad can be a ball buster. The trick is having a smart schedule that gives guys a little time off and a Detco that doesn't expect you to show up when you have nothing to do. Sonny "Sonnenberg" was a good bud of mine-damned I wish they woulda cnx'd that sortie on account of pilot fatigue or crew rest, but it's all Monday Morning QB stuff.

Sonny & Trojan both can be chalked up as pilot error - but I have to ask, would the pilot error have occured if it were not combat? The answer is NO. So I'm also inclined to say the stats are skewed due to combat ops.

I hear 20mm is weapon of choice right now...time to bring it!

Oh:
Quote:

The F-16 is known in Air Force circles as the “lawn dart”

Not sure what AF circles those are. I guess when the Class A rate was super high in the early 80's! Somebody needs to shelve that lawn dart stuff and get some new material.

1Seat 1Engine 10-27-2007 09:02 PM

I actually enjoyed my time Balad BUT any article that says the accident rate is mysteriously higher these days is worthless.

It's higher because of what we've been doing fighting the war at a forward location.

Some of what we do is necessary, some of it isn't, but it's war, and like Patton said,"you're going to take some losses in a big operation."


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