Military Aviation


The vertical stabilizer from the fallen aircraft also happens to be the last F-16 Block 52 tail wing in Air Force inventory and will be a valuable asset if it is deemed able to return to the fleet

The Thunderbird F-16 that went down in Colorado last year had its vertical stabilizer  removed by Airmen from the 140th Wing, Colorado Air National Guard (COANG), on Mar. 14 at Peterson Air Force Base (AFB).

The F-16 was transported to Peterson AFB after a Thunderbird flyover for the Air Force Academy graduation on Jun. 2, 2016, during which, the pilot, Maj. Alex Turner, encountered a throttle malfunction and successfully ejected from the jet, avoiding any loss of life or damage to civilian property.

Although the $29 million fighter jet was destroyed in the crash, the service has determined that the part also happens to be the last F-16 Block 52 tail wing in Air Force inventory and would like to have it removed so that it can be reintroduce into the fleet in future.

Thunderbird 6 sits in a hangar at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., Mar. 14, 2017.

Master Sgt. Robert Baker, team chief for the recovery event, 140th Maintenance Group, explained to Staff Sgt. Michelle Alvarez-Rea, Colorado National Guard, for the article Colorado Air National Guard brings new life to fallen Thunderbird tail, that to take off the vertical tail of an F-16, a recovery team would typically need to remove the engine in order to get underneath the tail.

Because of the condition of the fallen aircraft, the team has to execute a unique process, recommended by Air Force depot engineers, in which they will go in from above instead of below, allowing them to maintain the structural integrity of the tail.

Once removed, the tail will be securely packaged and prepared for transport to Hill Air Force Base (AFB) in northern Utah, where Air Force engineers will conduct a series of assessments to determine the future of the Thunderbird 6, vertical tail wing.

The U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron, the Thunderbirds, performs precision aerial maneuvers demonstrating the capabilities of Air Force high performance aircraft to people throughout the world. The squadron exhibits the professional qualities the Air Force develops in the people who fly, maintain and support these aircraft.

A Thunderbirds air demonstration is a mix of formation flying and solo routines. The four-aircraft diamond formation demonstrates the training and precision of Air Force pilots, while the solo aircraft highlight the maximum capabilities of the F-16 Fighting Falcon.

The vertical tail of Thunderbird 6 is separated from the fuselage in a hangar at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., Mar. 14, 2017.

Source: U.S. Air Force; Photo credit: Staff Sgt. Michelle Y. Alvarez-Rea / U.S. Air National Guard

Artwork courtesy of

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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