Losses and Aviation Safety

USN F/A-18 Pilot killed in A-29 Crash Initiated Ejection Below Recommended Minimum Altitude

The mission was a continuation training sortie in support of the Light Attack Experiment Phase II.

An Air Force Materiel Command Accident Investigation Board (AIB) has identified the cause of an A-29 Super Tucano crash which killed a U.S. Navy fighter pilot this past summer in New Mexico.

Navy Lt. Christopher Short, an experienced F/A-18 pilot, was piloting an A-29 operating from Holloman Air Force Base (AFB), New Mexico, on Jun. 22, 2018 when it crashed shortly after delivering a GBU-12 (500-pound laser-guided bomb) on the Red Rio Bombing Range, part of the White Sands Missile Range. The only other crewmember, an Air Force weapon systems officer, successfully ejected with minor injuries.

The AIB President identified the cause of the mishap as over control of the aircraft, followed by a failure to apply adequate recovery control inputs. By turning too sharply at low airspeed after release of a practice bomb, the aircraft entered an uncontrolled spiral dive.

Additionally, the specific cause of the mishap pilot’s death was delayed ejection. After unsuccessful attempts to recover the aircraft, ejection was initiated below the recommended minimum altitude for uncontrolled flight, preventing the parachute from fully inflating.

The mission was a continuation training sortie in support of the Light Attack Experiment Phase II. The mishap aircraft took off with two GBU-12s, rockets, and .50 caliber ammunition. According to the executive summary, the mission proceeded uneventfully until the first weapon delivery, a GBU-12, released from the left outboard pylon. The mishap crew planned and attempted to execute a right 180-degree turn after releasing the weapon.

The AIB President also found by a preponderance of the evidence, that attempting the 180-degree turn maneuver, without compensating for asymmetry of weapon release at low airspeed, substantially contributed to the mishap.

The two-man crew were among 17 aircrew members from multiple services and commands selected to participate in the Light Attack Experiment Phase II, a capability assessment of two non-developmental light attack platforms, the AT-6 and A-29.

Photo credit: Tech. Sgt. Veronica Pierce / U.S. Air Force

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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