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   Undertoad  Thursday Feb 5 11:19 AM

2/5/2004: Thunderbird pilot ejects

This happened last September but the photo of it was just released the other day. I've taken the large format version and sized it for our consumption.

It was an air show in Idaho. It was the end of the show, the last maneuver of the day. Pilot Chris Stricklin climbed to about 1700 feet AGL "Above Ground Level" before starting his "pull-down to the Split-S maneuver". Unfortunately the manuever requires an ground clearance of 2500 feet to pull off.

He immediately realized something was wrong and had seconds to pull back. He rolled slightly left to make sure he'd avoid the crowd, but did not have enough altitude to avoid the crash. 0.8 seconds before the F-16 hit the ground, Stricklin hit his eject button. The plane was 140 feet above the ground.

So what happened? Stricklin had practiced the manuever in Nevada, but apparently they had always used MSL altitudes - "Mean Sea Level", and apparently Stricklin flew to his usual MSL altitude... which was much closer to the ground in elevated Idaho.

An investigation found that "The requirement for demonstration pilots to real time convert MSL to AGL numbers, a maneuver with a limited margin of error, and a preconscious level of awareness created a situation more susceptible to pilot error." In other words, the procedure was harder than it had to be, and so there was a chance for a pilot to make a mistake. Stricklin had to read the MSL number, do the math himself, and then call out the AGL number to the ground controller, all without delay. In his head, he accidentally cheated on the conversion.

Stricklin was only slightly injured in the whole thing. Nobody else was hurt. He now works a desk job at the Pentagon. The Air Force insists he is not being punished for the incident, which to me seems like the right thing.

Much more on this at AvWeb, including two videos of the event - one from in the cockpit, looking back at the pilot. When you watch the videos you realize how little time the pilot has to make all these decisions.

Elspode  Thursday Feb 5 11:55 AM

*Awesome* pic, UT...thanx!

xant  Thursday Feb 5 11:57 AM

The next shot is even cooler

It's the one where the jet is just about to crash right into the camera.

lumberjim  Thursday Feb 5 12:08 PM

i watched the video. he seems so calm as he ejects.....god, that must be freaky.....he only missed dying by .8 sec.?

glatt  Thursday Feb 5 12:40 PM

Lots of amazing footage in the link.

Leah  Thursday Feb 5 07:23 PM

Awesome in deed. I was at the Melbourne Air Show February last year, and some of those planes (and many others, of which I don't know what they are called, very fast ones) are just amazing. Glad this didn't happen there.

xoxoxoBruce  Thursday Feb 5 10:08 PM

A 30odd million $ mistake but at least nobody got killed. What's the purpose of air shows like this? Recruitment? Entertainment? Some of the international shows are sales tools, but what about the small in-country shows?

Leah  Thursday Feb 5 10:14 PM

Bruce, I know that they had small planes for sale and people from all around Australia flew in on their own planes. They camped out under the wings. The most interesting thing was watching the Air Force and the really fast planes fly past and then seconds later you would hear them, the acrobatics were also pretty spectacular. I went with someone who is building their own plane, so it was very interesting for him to see all the other planes on the market.

tw  Thursday Feb 5 10:52 PM

I arrived on scene of a A-4 crash just south of Willow Grove. A hydralic problem forced both A-4s to return. He came back west of the airfield and made a left turn for final approach. But hydralics failed right then. He flew directly over top of a gas station roof (Hess?) on 611, struck electric and phone wires across the street, and proceded down the side street (Willow - adjacent to Blair Mill Road if I remember), skidding between parked cars. IOW he rode the plane all the way down - still inside as it took out wires on 611 and touched the street.

When I got there, all that was left were two engines and lots of scrap. This at the end of a 1 block street. Plane stopped before hitting a house at end of the street. 50 feet forward and to the right of that debris was a parachute. Chute hanging in a tree front of that house. Pilot ejected after plane was down on that side street. His chute hanging just beyond the fire line.

A rumor about crash landings. You may walk away, but if you abandoned the plane too early, then other pilots will never drink with you again. This guy probably never had to buy another drink. A spectaculor landing down a side street without taking out a single house. Jet fuel burned out all cars parked on that narrow residential street.

wolf  Friday Feb 6 01:20 AM

My sister was working in the office building that he managed not to hit. That was one hell of a piece of flying.

Nothing But Net  Friday Feb 6 01:53 AM

What I want to know is: how did that cockpit video survive the crash?

Why don't they just encase the pilot in the same stuff? :p

glatt  Friday Feb 6 01:20 PM

I think it was being broadcast. You can see the signal get broken up a few times. You can also see the image go dark when the rocket flame from the ejection seat burns out the camera. But the screen goes black because the transmitter keeps transmitting when there is no signal from the camera.

Gary M. Climer  Friday Feb 6 09:22 PM

note to self "Do not!!! smoke after eating the chili from booth #4!!! after tequila chasers from booth #5!!!"

tw  Friday Feb 6 09:37 PM

Originally posted by wolf
My sister was working in the office building that he managed not to hit. That was one hell of a piece of flying.
That was your sister in the copy machine place? If so, she was talking on the phone when a A-4 took out the line.

wolf  Saturday Feb 7 04:30 AM

Nope ... Nutra/System Corporate Offices (which have moved around a lot. IIRC this was in between bankruptcies).

Joy  Tuesday Feb 10 03:03 AM

Originally posted by xoxoxoBruce
A 30odd million $ mistake but at least nobody got killed. What's the purpose of air shows like this? Recruitment? Entertainment? Some of the international shows are sales tools, but what about the small in-country shows?
It is all about civilian and military relations. Here in the US it is probley the one time a civilian will get to go onto a military base. For the military it is all about being able to drink beer on the flightline ( the runway) for the familys of the military it is about being able to walk on the flightline .

BuckshotJones  Sunday Feb 15 02:24 PM

Willow Grove

hey tw, do you have links or pics of that Willow Grove crash?

doc  Sunday Feb 15 10:02 PM

you can find some of the story here.

you can also find a video from inside the cockpit here.

Your reply here?

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