New Details on Mysterious Crash of Lt. Col. Eric “Doc” Schultz Near Area 51 Emerge

Su-27 side view.

Unnamed Sources in Published Report Suggest Pilot May Have Been Flying Russian Aircraft.

In a story published late Monday, September 11, 2017 on AviationWeek.com, new information has been revealed about the type of aircraft that USAF Lt. Col. Eric Schultz, call sign “Doc”, may have been flying at the time of his mysterious crash 100 miles Northwest of Nellis AFB in the Nevada Test and Training Range.

Speculation about the crash was fueled by Air Force media releases that did not indicate the type of aircraft that was being flown by Lt. Col. Schultz on Tuesday, September 5, 2017 when the accident occurred. There was also a delay in the story reaching news media that raised further questions since the accident was reported after another, unrelated accident involving two A-10s, was reported sooner.

File photo of Lt. Col Eric “Doc” Schultz. (USAF Photo)

AviationWeek.com correspondent Guy Norris wrote late Monday, September 11, that, “Sources indicate Schultz was the Red Hats squadron commander at the time of his death. The Red Hats became an unnumbered unit within the Detachment 3, AFTC test wing after the 413th flight test squadron (formerly 6513th test squadron) was deactivated in 2004. Over recent years the unit has operated a variety of Russian-developed combat types, including the MiG-29 and several Sukhoi-developed models such as the Su-27P, one of which was recently observed flying in the vicinity.”

The photos of the SU-27P referred to by Guy Norris on AviationWeek.com first appeared on TheAviationist.com on January 6, 2017 when we published the shots taken by Phil Drake from Tikaboo Peak outside Groom Lake, Nevada, on November 8, 2016 between 3:00 and 3:25 PM local time.

Photographer Phil Drake told TheAviationist.com, “I took my camera out and photographed the ensuing dogfight between the Flanker and a F-16.  The sortie seemed to consist of a head-on intercept, conducted at descending altitudes from 30 down to 20 thousand feet, and after each intercept a turning dogfight ensued after they had flashed past each other.

The highly maneuverable Flanker was a single seat version, a Su-27P, and it pulled out all of its best moves to get behind the F-16. I watched in awe as the pair fought it out for 25 minutes before they both climbed to altitude and flew back into Groom Lake restricted airspace. My scanner remained silent throughout the whole encounter.”

[Read also: Russian Video Of Captured U.S. F-5 Tiger Jet Dogfighting Against MiG-21 in Tests Raises Question: Do They Still Operate American Jets?]

Guy Norris’ story on AviationWeek.com also reports that, “Given the approximate location provided by the Air Force, it appears the accident occurred midway between Groom Lake and Tonopah Test Range airfield, both of which are operated by Detachment 3, Air Force Test Center (AFTC). The site is responsible for test and evaluation of classified “black” aircraft as well as foreign types which are flown by the Red Hats for tactics assessment and dissimilar training against front line Air Force units.”

Pilots of the 4477th Test and Evaluation Squadron, a unit tasked with testing opposing forces aircraft and tactics, pose for a photo published in the public domain. The unit was known to fly in the region where Lt. Col. Eric Schultz likely crashed. (Photo: USAF)

The Air Force has not provided any additional information on the specifics of the Lt. Col. Eric Schultz crash except for the famous tweet quoting USAF Gen. David L. Goldfein, Chief of Staff of the Air Force, who, on Saturday morning, September 9, told Military.com, “I can definitely say it was not an F-35.”

A map of the test ranges where the Phil Drake photos were taken. (Map: DailyMail.com)

Whether the U.S. Air Force will follow-up with additional information in the crash of Lt. Col. Eric Schultz is unknown. If Lt. Col. Schultz was involved in testing, evaluation and training with opposing forces aircraft in a classified program that remains ongoing the information may never be released. Additionally, the accident, if it did involve non-U.S. opposing forces aircraft, may compel the Air Force to change its opposing forces training program as seen in the now famous Phil Drake photos of the Su-27 outside Groom Lake.

Top image credit: Phil Drake

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About Tom Demerly 513 Articles
Tom Demerly is a feature writer, journalist, photographer and editorialist who has written articles that are published around the world on TheAviationist.com, TACAIRNET.com, Outside magazine, Business Insider, We Are The Mighty, The Dearborn Press & Guide, National Interest, Russia’s government media outlet Sputnik, and many other publications. Demerly studied journalism at Henry Ford College in Dearborn, Michigan. Tom Demerly served in an intelligence gathering unit as a member of the U.S. Army and Michigan National Guard. His military experience includes being Honor Graduate from the U.S. Army Infantry School at Ft. Benning, Georgia (Cycle C-6-1) and as a Scout Observer in a reconnaissance unit, Company “F”, 425th INF (RANGER/AIRBORNE), Long Range Surveillance Unit (LRSU). Demerly is an experienced parachutist, holds advanced SCUBA certifications, has climbed the highest mountains on three continents and visited all seven continents and has flown several types of light aircraft.

48 Comments

  1. Look at that picture of the 4477th. Not a single black pilot! A disturbing lack of personnel selection/assignment on the part of the AF. Well, at least they had one woman.

    • The 4477th didn’t have any female pilots. If I recall correctly they did have a female intelligence officer.

  2. If anything will kill you, it’s a Russia-made aircraft. This speculative report could very well be true.

  3. This sounds familiar. Has happened before. LTG Robert Bond was killed on April 26, 1984 while flying a “Russian MiG 21” at night. As it turned out, Bond was really flying the new F117.
    However, the crash in this case happened during early morning when there was daylight.
    The question is, was this a case of ‘hiding in plain sight’ while testing a new aircraft? The test went a bit longer, hence the ‘daylight’ issue?
    Su27 is hardly a ‘new’ Russian aircraft, something we’ve had for testing for some time.
    Guess we will have to await the USAF’s time to tell the rest of the story and what he actually was flying.

    • LTG Bond was actually flying a MiG-23, not an F-117. The story of the covered incident is a mistake: the US Air Force was forced to disclose the actual aircraft he was flying because of concern that the incident could lead to the exposure of the F-117.

      • The disclosure was made a considerable time after the incident, too many questions were being asked in Congress. The disclosure was made after the public unveiling of the F117.

      • The incident is covered in the book Red Eagles by Steve Davies. Bond wasn’t a Red Eagle. He was a general coming up on retirement and took the opportunity to use his rank to fly a bunch of exotic aircraft (including the F-117) before he retired. He flew one of the Red Hat MiG-23s out of Groom Lake and didn’t complete the normal familiarisation. During a high speed/high altitude run he got into trouble and couldn’t slow down (the MiG-23 had an inhibitor to prevent the engine being throttled back at high speeds and thus cause the engine to tear itself from the mounts during the sudden deceleration). He ejected at supersonic speeds and broke his neck I believe.

        The 4477th actually lost two of its pilots, one in 1979 when a USN Lt spun a MiG-17 into the ground, and another in 1982 when a USAF Capt crashed attempting to land a MiG-23 after it experienced an engine failure.

    • Why the hell does it matter what he was flying? Are any of you in the same unit or program let alone even in the military. Will you knowing the craft somehow bring the guy back to life or in any way help the next pilot. The information is completely irrelevant and on an unneeded to know basis.

      • You’re right about the lack of need to know but you’re overlooking the curiosity that stems from a shared passion for the topic of aviation in general. So it may be irrelevant to you and that’s a valid claim. But people’s curiosity about what our guys are flying out there is still valid and based on a love of aviation and/or care for a lost citizen or perhaps peer. I would take curiosity and passion for aviation over random troll comments any day.

  4. “The highly maneuverable Flanker was a single seat version, a Su-27P, and it pulled out all of its best moves to get behind the F-16.”

    And I’ll guarantee you the Flanker never did. Never got behind the F-16. More likely a turtle will outmaneuver a Greyhound!

    • Flanker already beats the F-15 on regular basis in mock combat. When flown by Russian and Indian pilots. Bulgarian and German pilots repeatedly beat F-16 with a MiG-29 in mock combat. Israelis confirm that it’s a real match to F-16 in a dogfight.

      Does your “guarantee” come from actually having faced a Flanker while flying an F-16 or from having flown both types? Because if it doesn’t then you aren’t providing anyone here with any worthwhile facts.

      • His guarantee comes from Leroy’s delusional dreams, where he is always winning battles vs soviets things, doesn’t matter what is! :D

      • and yet in ACTUAL combat Mig-29s have been shot down by western aircraft… REPEATEDLY

        When F-15s had their hands tied behind their back that was the only time when Indian Pilots were able to defeat F-15 pilots (also those Eagle drivers were less experienced and didn’t have as much flight time). Then when those Indian flanker pilots went to Alaska, it was a complete 180.

        statistically speaking in the past 30 some years, Russian aircraft have been on the losing side.

        • “When F-15s had their hands tied behind their back that was the only time when Indian Pilots were able to defeat F-15 pilots”

          Excuses. I am sure you wouldn’t like me saying that Migs didn’t have radars, pilots rarely flew them, and they were seriously outnumbered and didn’t have AWACS on their side. Su-27 also has clean record vs MiG-29 in African conflicts, and in a way more even and fair conditions.

    • They’re pretty good but they’re NOT going to turn with an F-16. That jet will turn 9G all day long and you’ll quit way before it ever will.

  5. Can I ask a really dumb question? Where do they get the aircraft for Red Hats? Where do you find an SU-27?
    And, (2nd question!) Do the Russians have any aggressor squadrons with F-15s, Eurofighter Typhoons, or even an F-22 or F-35 (unlikely. I’m guessing it can only be after the model has been released for export)?

    • The Russians did field a few U.S. aircraft for their own opposing forces training. Some photos showed up with an F-4 Phantom in them in Russia, either from some Middle East conflict or Vietnam I would suppose.

      • I’ve read there was a unit in the Soviet Union tasked with testing western aircraft. They got at least one F-5 which was captured in South Vietnam and was flown in the USSR. If you dig around online you can actually find the Soviet pilot’s reports. They’re quite an interesting read.

        There is a satellite photo that has done the rounds showing what is clearly an F-4 under a tarpaulin at the same base the F-5 was tested at. The best guess is this was either a non-airworthy example from Iran, or possibly a full scale mock up built at least partly with recovered F-4 parts. I’ve never seen any reliable or credible sources which claim the Soviets actually flew an F-4.

    • The very first MiGs that America got were from Arab pilots that defected to Israel. Most of the MiG-21s operated by the Red Eagles were recovered from Indonesia. The MiG-23s were believed to have been acquired clandestinely from an Arab air force. The MiG-29s were purchased from Moldova to top them being sold to Iran. The Su-27s were purchased from a private owner in Belarus.

      Most of the aircraft acquired during the Cold War are still shrouded in secrecy, their original identity and means of ending up in America still classified.

    • 1. Su-27P, most likely, was bought in Belarus. MiG-29 could have been bought anywhere in Western Europe – in Germany, Romania or Hungary and even in Africa.
      2. No, we do not have aggressor squadrons equipped with American fighters.

    • We started getting Russian aircraft in the 80s during a program called Constant Peg. There are countries that are friendly to the US that are clients for Soviet aircraft, India, Vietnam and a few others that are suppliers for today’s equivalent of Constant Peg. I have never read about the Russians laying hands on western aircraft as most clients for these have pretty strict controls on their weapons systems.

      • I would imagine the demise of South Vietnam would have given the Russians plenty of American equipment examples to look at. Probably not everything, and probably skewed to the low-end; any good stuff would be available as shootdown debris all over North Vietnam.

        The Iranian Revolution would have preserved most of the Shah-era infrastructure for the picking, up until Saddam started destroying it. More recently, hard to say if Venezuela granted the Russians access to their export grade F-16’s. And of course, they might even have people in Iraq today, poking and prodding at Iraqi Army hardware.

    • The MiG-29s were being sold off by a former Soviet state and the US bought them to keep them out of Iranian hands. The Su-27s are rumored to have been purchased from Ukraine.

      And the Russians have no F-15s, Typhoons, F-22s or F-35s. They got some F-5s and A-37s from the former South Vietnamese Air Force after South Vietnam fell, but that’s it.

    • Russian aircraft have been exported around the world and many of their once allies have in essence switched sides. Ukraine for instance flies Su-27s.

      The US has lost many aircraft in combat over the decades and we’ve had some instances of countries switching sides as well, think Iran(F-4, F-5, F-14, etc) or Venezuela(F-16). So aircraft like the F-4, F-5 or even F-16 could have easily been obtained. I doubt that any of the aircraft you listed could have been obtained though.

    • We received 7 SU-27’s from the Ukraine back in the early 2000’s. We gave one to Israel and one to England.

    • Occasionally they got aircraft from pilots who defected, but mostly they came from former Soviet states who sold/donated them to the US or US allies who shared captured aircraft. (search for Constant Peg for more details on the history)
      Specifically talking about a SU-27, your guess is as good as mine, but have a look at the list of countries who have owned them, and take a guess as to which of them might have sold/given an SU-27 to the US. Maybe Ukraine?

      As for your second question, who knows? The F-22 and F-35 almost certainly haven’t been examined by the Russians yet though, they’re just too new and rare.

    • Back in the day, they got MiG-21’s from Indonesia and MiG-23’s from Egypt.

      The Russians only evaluated an F-5E, A-37, etc. from Vietnam.

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