11 Days After Incident at RIAT When Horizontal Stabilizer Delaminated, Another F-16 flown by the Viper Demo Team Loses Panel.
A USAF F-16 Fighting Falcon, or “Viper”, lost an access panel in flight during the Friday, August 2 practice session for the 2019 Thunder Over Michigan airshow at Willow Run Airport in Romulus, Michigan.
This latest incident comes only 11 days after the same USAF F-16 Viper Demo Team pilot, in a different aircraft on loan 480th FS Warhawks from Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, declared an in-flight emergency over RAF Fairford.
Photogapher and aviation expert James Woodard of FullDiscAviation.com alerted TheAviationist.com to the incident on Friday via Facebook when he shared a photo he shot of the panel flying off the aircraft in flight as it executed a high “G” turn at the south end of the restricted air space used for flight demonstration. Woodard, the owner and operator of Black Knight Aviation, an aviation media company created in honor of his brother, U.S. Army SGT. Michael Scusa, killed in action in Afghanistan in 2009 as a member of a combat unit named “Black Knight Troop”, told TheAviationist.com, “The panel just flew off. Who knows where it went.”
“It does happen occasionally. It’s just normal operating for an F-16, or any aircraft really. Sometimes latches fail,” USAF F-16 Viper Demo Team Commander Major Garrett Schmitz, callsign “Toro”, told TheAviationist.com in an interview on Saturday at Thunder Over Michigan. “Essentially what happened yesterday was, a latch failed, and the panel came off. While it’s not common, I would say it’s not un-common. It’s nothing that we’re concerned about. It’s something that happens, it’s part of flying, we fix the jet and move on.”
The panel that separated was on the aircraft’s left side, just behind the F-16’s M61A1 six-barrel, 20mm Gatling gun internal placement. The panel is used to gain access to components of the M61A1 Gatling gun for maintenance.
The panel detached from the aircraft following a series of high-speed, high “G” maneuvers routinely showcased during the demonstration of the F-16’s maximum performance capabilities at airshows.
“I didn’t actually know about it until after I landed.” Maj. Garrett “Toro” Schmitz told TheAviationist.com. “It’s not something you can hear, it’s not something you can feel. It essentially has no effect on the demonstration. Maj. Schmitz went on to tell TheAviationist.com that, “Normally F-16s aren’t pulling 9 G’s every day. Ours take a little more wear and tear than a normal F-16. I don’t think it’s the age, sometimes mechanical components fail and that’s what happened yesterday.”
Following the separation of the panel from the F-16, the demonstration practice concluded normally and Maj. Schmitz joined up with a P-51 Mustang in formation to complete the Heritage Flight demonstration before landing. After the panel detached emergency vehicles were seen briefly driving onto the airfield adjacent the main runway at Willow Run, but quickly returned to their ready parking positions when the incident was not declared an emergency.
The F-16 Demo Team completed their demonstration on Saturday normally using the second aircraft they brought to Willow Run Airport for Thunder Over Michigan.