U.S. Air Force Viper Demo Team’s F-16 Suffers Horizontal Stabilizer Damage During Display Flight at RIAT 2019

A screenshot of the video by Nigel Woolley that shows the damage to the right horizontal stabilizer (screenshot from YT video).

The pilot declared emergency and landed safely.

A pretty unusual incident occurred to the USAF Viper Demo Team F-16C 96-0080 at RIAT (Royal International Air Tattoo), at RAF Fairford, UK, on Jul. 21, 2019.

Few minutes into the display (the first of RIAT Sunday program), Maj. Garret Schmitz, pilot and commander of the Demo Team, stopped his routine and declared an emergency. He climbed to higher altitude while assessing the problem then flew over the runway, with gear down at low speed, for a visual inspections before coming to a final safe landing.

Footage and shots taken on the ground revealed damage to the trailing edge of the right horizontal stabilizer. According to journalist Angad Singh, who met the Viper Demo guys at RIAT, the mishap was probably caused by a spontaneous delamination of the stabilizer’s composite material.

Delamination is a separation along a plane parallel to a surface, as in the separation of a coating from a substrate or the layers of a coating from each other or, in the case of a concrete slab, a horizontal splitting, cracking, or separation near the upper surface.

In this case, delamination might have been caused by the sustained g-forces involved with the F-16’s display.

Noteworthy, the aircraft used by the Demo Team at RIAT was on loan from the 480th FS Warhawks from Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany. Indeed, at least in Europe, the team flies aircraft borrowed by units based close to the airshow location.

About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.