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

Sep 12 2017 - 69 Comments
By Tom Demerly

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

Salva

  • leroy

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

    • BillClinton

      Of course, it had nothing to do with him flying a foreign, unfamiliar aircraft.

    • Black Eagle

      List of crashes of U.S. military aircraft says something different. There’s more probability you will got killed while flying an American-made aircraft.

    • Holztransistor

      leroy, we also could turn the in a different direction. The pilot wasn’t able to handle the aircraft. But I don’t want to speak in a bad way about dead people. Just face it, you don’t know it and you’re just mouthing off about Russian planes (again).

      • Max Glazer

        He is a hardcore nato fanboy. Happens when one grows up in usa

  • Lawrence D. Wood

    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.

    • cencio4

      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.

      • Lawrence D. Wood

        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.

      • Æthelberht

        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 MiG-23s at Tonopah 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.

    • GINicholas

      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.

      • John Boy

        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.

  • leroy

    “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!

    • Phantombite

      You’ve done DACT I assume.

    • Max Glazer

      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.

      • Pepe Le Cox

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

      • Uniform223

        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.

        • Vladimir Impalerov

          “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.

      • WpnsLoader175

        Maybe, but that is what AIM-9x is for. And AIM-120D at 80-100 miles

        • Ethan Mclean

          Maybe, but that works both ways: R-77/K-77M

    • BillClinton

      I guarantee you are wrong.

    • FoilHatWearer

      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.

      • WpnsLoader175

        It will, with out bags and pylons.

    • vantguard

      Stop dreaming. Reach out for real.

    • Black Eagle

      Your guarantees have same value as guarantees of some console addict.

    • nataly Sobol

      Leroy is a famous Russian hater disregard dude

  • leroy

    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.

    • Æthelberht

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

  • AlastairMcK

    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)?

    • Tom Demerly

      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.

      • Æthelberht

        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.

    • WHOHE

      Ukraine sold a few Flankers to US. No F-15s or Typhoons in the hands of russians.

    • Æthelberht

      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.

    • Max Grishin

      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.

    • Corporate Kitten

      A couple came from Ukraine years ago.

    • Grey Beard

      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.

      • TheEvilBlight

        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.

    • Grant Little

      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.

      • Max Glazer

        They did get an F-14 from Iran too.

    • Hunter3203

      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.

    • Michael Lopez

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

    • phuzz

      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.

    • El Kabong

      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.

  • Vincent Vagner

    Bad news for the US Red Air community if they lost the Red Hats commander.
    Beside Tom, what did you mean with “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.” What would they change ? Types of aircraft ? Location of the mock dogfights with these foreign aircraft ?

    • Tom Demerly

      Good question Vincent. My concern is that the Air Force may stand-down any opposing forces aircraft from flight status if this, indeed, was an acquired Russian aircraft in the accident. Again, as you know Sir, we do not know that it was a Russian aircraft. All this is conjecture at this point based on “anonymous reports”, but I will suggest that possibility may exist. Pardon me for writing in disclaimers…

  • Sam

    I wouldn’t see anything wrong with testing other countries aircraft against the capabilities of our units. That is an ongoing situation.

    • mitmark

      In 1968, Israel gave the US MiG 21 and the training against it dramatically changed Vietnam’s air warfare. It is a fact that until then the North Vietnamese Air Force had an advantage, while training on MiG 21Turned the tables around in that war

  • Æthelberht

    “Pilots of the 4477th Test and Evaluation Squadron, a unit tasked with testing opposing forces aircraft and tactics”

    The 4477th were the Red Eagles, a TAC unit made up of Aggressor/FWS instructor/Top Gun instructor pilots flying Soviet aircraft against USAF/USN/USMC units as part of the Constant Peg programme. The 4477th weren’t tasked with testing Soviet aircraft and weapons – that was the job of the Red Hats who were a different unit under AFSC/AFMC.

  • “The Punisher”

    It already has started to stink bad …..

  • Phantombite

    The story makes sense. Is it the truth … We’ll probably never know. Either way, we lost a good man. Condolences to friends, family, and coworkers.

  • Rob Burch

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

  • Ethan Mclean

    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 ???

    • WpnsLoader175

      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.

      • Joe Trader

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

  • Æthelberht

    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.

  • TheEvilBlight

    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?

  • Kepha

    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.

  • Max Glazer

    Only utter imbeciles claim that just because Abrams is blown up then it means it’s a poor machine. It’s clear as a day that tanks are operated by crews that make the difference up to a point. Turks lost 10 Leo 2s in 1-2 days. Russians and Syrians lost 1 T-90 in a year to the same opponent. Does that mean that T-90 is is leagues ahead of Abrams used by Iraqis and Saudis and Leo 2 used by Turks? Will we, following your logic, say that everything Turks and Iraqis say are excuses?

    My statement on Abrams was always that it isn’t an invincible all-conquering tank but a machine that needs to be used correctly according to what its strengths and weakesses are. Because incorrect use will also get it killed. Old comment of “Russian tanks are just a jack in a box” was spectacularly proven to apply to all tanks. With Abrams and Leo-2 losing turrets to explosion of battle load. HE-FRAG ammo will do it to ANY tank, bustle with blow-out panels or not.

    USA exports Abrams tanks and says that they do not feature DU inserts and thus have lower resistance. Soviets exported tanks with no composite armor. Deliberate degrading of export model. Same goes for all the fighter aircraft they exported. Gen-4 airframe with gen 3 level avionics.

    Ask any fighter pilot or tank commander/gunner would having a modern well-maintained vehicle, up-to-date fire-control system and secure comms mean a difference in combat? I promise you US pilots would tell their commander to go somewhere far if he told them to fly a combat mission with an inoperable radar, inoperable ESM, no ground support and in a barely air-worthy plane against an enemy in latest versions of well-maintained fighters and with newest missiles with AWACS support. Suicide if nothing else. You should know that latest and best fighter airframe without operational combat system is useless (Serbian MiGs). You should know that without modern fire control system, modern armor and modern rounds tank is useless (Iraqi Asad Babyl). If Serbian pilots had 25 hours per year back then they were lucky.

    If I were to give you an old AK with a crooked sight, warped barrel and no stock you’d be hard-pressed to shoot well when compared to a brand-new out-of-the-box M-16.

  • Max Glazer

    To date Western missiles were used mostly by those that actually have their heads and hands screwed on right and with correct battle-appropriate tactics :) Also looked after them and maintained them as required. And then there are users of Soviet and Russian equipment that leave Air-to-air missiles and laser-guided rounds out in the elements for months and years. Indians, Arabs and Africans spring to mind. Indians even tried to claim warranty and manufacturing faults. Somehow I don’t see USAF, USMC, USN, Israeli Air Force and Western European militaries leaving such rounds filled with sensitive electronics under open skies, rain hail or shine. That’s exactly what Indians and Africans did. Any wonder that missiles failed or didn’t perform as advertized? Also helps when pilots get to a good shooting position.

  • Vladimir Impalerov

    You still don’t understand that it is army vs army not 1 vs 1 computer plane. Take on Russian army and you will see how good or bad your army is.

    • leroy

      The Russian Army is a paper bear. Nothing the U.S. and NATO couldn’t deal a fatal blow to in less than maybe a month or two. A little longer to go all the way to Russia’s Far East.

      Then of course a million troops or so to maintain control. We could then sell the Far East back to China. After all, Russia stole it from the Chinese anyway.

      Combined with our far superior air power, Russia wouldn’t stand a chance. The Russian Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines, Spetznaz would be crushed. This isn’t 1940, and the U.S. military isn’t the German Whermacht.

      • Vladimir Impalerov

        You can’t deal even with freaking ISIS. Russia with very limited army contingent in a very limited timeframe made ISIS cry for help.

        You were bombing Yugoslavia for nearly 3 months from all directions and could barely deliver any damage to their military and nearly ran out of ammo. Destroying civil infrastructure, including Chinese embassy, is all you were good for. You were scared to put boots on the ground. Look up ex-Yugoslavia/Serbia on the map and then look up Russia. Look up their armies too.

        Also you would have hard time to rellocate all your planes unnoticed from the other part of the globe. Any Euro nation that would allow you to use their airfields would be suicidal. Same with soldiers and tanks, it would take you months to transfer all tanks. Sorry dude but you are too naive and ignorant.

  • Max Glazer

    These are ex-Ukrainian air force Flankers with no weapon systems or an old one from back in Soviet days. They had been overhauled and sold to USA by Ukraine. Those guys sell anything and everything to anyone.