Why do mid-air collisions between fighter jets occur?

Aug 05 2013 - 18 Comments

“Two F-16C Falcon single seat aircraft, assigned to the 113th Wing, D.C. Air National Guard, were involved in a mid-air collision Aug. 1. The aircraft were on a routine night training mission off the coast of Chincoteague, Va., approximaley 70 miles southeast of Washington. The accident occurred over water at 10:28 p.m.

One pilot ejected from his aircraft safely and inflated his emergeny raft. He was recovered by members of the U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Elizabeth City at 12:30 a.m. Aug. 2. The second pilot and aircraft was able to return to Joint Base Andrews without further incident.”


Image credit: U.S. Air Force

Following the above news of a midair collision, many readers of The Aviationist asked how this kind of incidents may happen.

There is always the risk of a midair collision when two (or more) aircraft fly close to each other. Even if some collisions in the past took place because of failures or during engaments, air-to-air combat maneuvering, many (more) have occurred as perfectly working aircraft were rejoining the formation.

That phase of the flight can be extremely dangerous, especially at night: the two pilots, flying in a tactical spread formation, have to tighten the formation. The lead aircraft is reached by the wingman, with the latter initially forced to keep a higher speed (otherwise it would not reach the leader) and then to suddenly reduce his speed to match the leading plane’s airspeed. A distraction can be fatal.

And don’t forget how close the aircraft fly from the moment until landing: once again, a sudden move, a distraction, hence a human error could cause the midair.


  • OG_Locc

    David, I dig the new layout. I think your American readers would prefer the date to be displayed as 08-05-2013, rather than 05-08-2013 though. ;-)

    • cencio4

      Thanks for the advice, much appreciated!

      • Paul M

        But us in the old world would like the date as it should be, 05-08-2013.

        • cencio4

          Well I’m pretty sure you’ll like the way I’ve solved the problem: Aug. 5, 2013.
          I care about my US and European and rest pf the world readers

    • Exar Kun

      I like the date being the logical way around. :D

    • Steve

      Agreed- Love the new site, but the 05-08-13 made me think I was seeing articles from back in may. As always, thanks for the wonderful site David- it’s one of the best.

    • Ano N. Ymous

      His European readers would hate it though. ;-p

  • bohicarico

    What are the rank and name of the pilots involved? What are the call-letters of the aircraft involved in the “accident”?

    • DoJo

      I am surely certain that Colonel Dan Caine was not one of the crashed pilots.

  • bohicarico

    When will the Air National Guard recover the aircraft ditched in the water?

  • StanSki

    This happened before of the coast of New Jersey/Delaware back in 1997 involving two F-16’s from the ANG 177th. One was a two seater in which both pilots managed to eject safely while the other pilot was able to get his bird home. Sounds a bit familiar, eh. – http://articles.philly.com/1997-10-11/news/25539032_1_training-flights-177th-fighter-wing-air-national-guard

  • Tim

    The new website does not load properly in Google Chrome. Still great stories, just a little confusing.

    • Anton

      Also having this problem in Chrome… Website design broken.

      • cencio4

        I have Chrome on my Mac OS X and the site works just fine. It may be a problem with Adblock if you have it installed.

    • cencio4

      Chrome works just fine unless you have Adblock.

  • StanSki

    I was also able to witness the crash of an F-16 from the ANG 177th while it was attempting bombing and strafing maneuvers at Warren Grove bombing range one day.

    I was having a cigarette break outside my job while watching the jets do their thing. I watched as I saw one jet, which I had a rear view of from about 6 miles away, flame out and drop behind the tree line. It didn’t come back up. I called Command immediately to report it.


  • Mehmet Emre

    He must be strictly punished if it’s due to personal fault. I think the pilots must focus on what he is doing in the plane. Government does not give him the plane to crash it. I am pissed off :) Anyway for some cool F-22 photos : F22-Raptor Pictures

  • geffria

    I applaud you for your post. Thank you.
    I am happy to report that Col Dan is still selling shrimp from his boat on the Acquoocuan.He will tnd to his men militarilay, and at once.
    Parade rest my friend.