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ASN Wikibase Occurrence # 46421
Last updated: 18 September 2021
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Time:15:16 LT
Type:Silhouette image of generic F16 model; specific model in this crash may look slightly different
General Dynamics F-16C
Owner/operator:AD Sqn Thunderbirds USAF (AD Squadron Thunderbirds United States Air Force)
Registration: 87-0327
MSN: 5C-588
Fatalities:Fatalities: 0 / Occupants: 1
Other fatalities:0
Aircraft damage: Written off (damaged beyond repair)
Location:Mountain Home AFB, Elmore County, ID -   United States of America
Phase: Manoeuvring (airshow, firefighting, ag.ops.)
Departure airport:Mountain Home AFB, (MUO/KMUO)
Destination airport:
F-16C 87-0327 "Thunderbird 6" of the USAF Flight Demonstration Squadron Thunderbirds, was written off 14 September 2003 when it crashed and was destroyed whilst taking part in an air display at Mountain Home AFB, Idaho

According to the accident investigation board report the pilot, 31-year-old Captain Chris Stricklin, misinterpreted the altitude required to complete the "Split S" maneuver. He made his calculation based on an incorrect mean-sea-level altitude of the airfield. The pilot incorrectly climbed to 1,670 feet above ground level instead of 2,500 feet before initiating the pull down to the Split S maneuver.

When he realized something was wrong, the pilot put maximum back stick pressure and rolled slightly left to ensure the aircraft would impact away from the crowd should he have to eject. He ejected when the aircraft was 140 feet above ground - just 0.8 seconds prior to impact. He sustained only minor injuries from the ejection. There was no other damage to military or civilian property.

The aircraft, valued at about $20.4 million, was destroyed.

The difference in altitudes at Nellis and Mountain Home may have contributed to the pilot's error. The airfield at Nellis is at 2,000 feet whereas the one at Mountain Home is at 3,000 feet. It appears that the pilot reverted back to his Nellis habit pattern for s aplit second. Thunderbird commander Lt. Col. Richard McSpadden said Stricklin had performed the stunt around 200 times, at different altitudes during his year as a Thunderbird pilot.

McSpadden says Stricklin is an exceptional officer. "He is an extremely talented pilot. He came in here and made an honest mistake," says Lt. Col. McSpadden. But that mistake has cost Stricklin his prestigious spot on the Thunderbird team. "He's assigned to Washington D.C.," says McSpadden. "He's working in the Pentagon there in one of the agencies."

The maneuver the pilot was trying to complete is called the "Split S Maneuver." The stunt requires that the pilot climb to 2,500 feet. Investigators say Stricklin only climbed to 1,670 feet before he went into the spinning roll.

The board determined other factors substantially contributed to creating the opportunity for the error including the requirement to convert sea level altitude information from the F-16 instruments - to their altitude above ground and call out that information to a safety operator below.

But the Air Force has now changed that as a result of the crash. Thunderbird pilots will now call out the MSL (mean-sea-level) altitudes as opposed to the AGL (above-ground-level) altitudes.

Thunderbird pilots will now also climb an extra 1000 feet before performing the Split S Maneuver to prevent another mistake like the one on Sep.14, 2003 from happening again.

Captain Chris Stricklin has been in the Air Force since 1994 and flew with the Thunderbirds for the first season now. He has logged a total of 1,500+ flight hours and has received numerous awards. He served as a flight examiner, flight instructor and flight commander





Photo of 87-0327 courtesy

Québec - Jean Lesage International (CYQB / YQB)
30 January 2003; (c) Pierre Langlois

Related books:

Revision history:

04-Nov-2008 10:35 ASN archive Added
27-May-2012 00:26 Anon. Updated [Total fatalities, Total occupants, Location, Country, Narrative]
22-Nov-2013 02:18 Dr. John Smith Updated [Time, Operator, Other fatalities, Location, Phase, Nature, Departure airport, Source, Narrative]
20-Nov-2014 16:46 Dr. John Smith Updated [Embed code]
14-Dec-2016 19:21 Aerossurance Updated [Time, Operator, Location, Departure airport, Narrative]
22-Jun-2017 12:08 Iceman 29 Updated [Embed code]
05-Apr-2018 11:22 Aerossurance Updated [Location]
28-Mar-2019 12:35 Aerossurance Updated [Embed code]
25-Dec-2019 20:24 stehlik49 Updated [Operator, Operator]
08-Feb-2020 18:04 Iwosh Updated [Operator, Operator]

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