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.

7 Comments

  1. I’ll assume the photographer of the SU-27 is the very same person who has taken all the photos of Bigfoot.

  2. No factual or conclusive data, eh ? Anyway, assuming it was a sukhoi and the pilot knew what he was doing (it certainly looks that way), – the assumption would be hardware malfunction, meaning USAF weren’t able to maintain an ‘ancient’ 4gen fighter from the eighties ???

    • I am not saying one way or the other….but it isn’t like you can go into IMDS and just order up some Sukoi parts from the supply part store. Must be a bitch to maintain a jet with little parts inventory, no access to tech data updates and not knowing the trends in the fleet. The bird could have come a part from a structural issue that the Russians found a while back and we didn’t know about. I mean, it’s hard enough maintaining our own 4th and 5th Gen birds with the company rep sitting there with you, let alone with all your tech data coming courtesy of allies and the CIA.

      • I would guess they can pay off other countries/foreign personnel for that info, if it’s been exported.

  3. If anyone wants to read the definitive book about the 4477th Test & Evaluation Squadron then check this out:

    https://www.amazon.co.uk/Red-Eagles-Americas-Secret-MiGs-ebook/dp/B01DPPTRD2/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1505304555&sr=8-2&keywords=red+eagles

    It covers the history and operations of the squadron and it’s role in the Constant Peg programme. Also covered are the genesis of the unit growing out of Have Doughnut/Have Drill/Have Idea and how it all fitted into the wider revolution in tactical training (the creation of the Aggressor programme, Red Flag, etc). The aircraft, the pilots, maintainers and support staff, the operations, their role in Red Flag and the civilian analysts who supported them. All covered in the book including very strong evidence that the unit continued in some form or another after it was officially disbanded in 1988.

  4. It’s likely that they just acquired a new type example, and wanted a reasonably seasoned pilot to put it through its paces. If so, might sabotage be in the cards?

  5. It depends on what Block F-16 was being flown. The big mouth Block 30 has a better STR over the Block 40 or 50. It also has a better STR vs the Su-27P and Mig-29A. The heavier Block 40 and 50 have STR closer to the Russian jets.

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