Category Archives: Aviation Safety / Air Crashes

T-38C Talon II Crashes at Vance AFB, in Oklahoma; Pilot Safely Ejected.

Accident is Third T-38 Crash in Ten Months for Talon II, Continues Series of U.S. Accidents.

A U.S. Air Force Northrop T-38C Talon II crashed on Friday, August 17, 2018 near Vance AFB 90 miles northwest of Oklahoma City in Enid, Oklahoma. One Instructor Pilot (the only crewmember) ejected from the aircraft and is reported in stable condition without serious injuries according to local media reports. The accident occurred at approximately 3:30 PM local time.

The aircraft belonged to either the 5th Flying Training Squadron, the “Spitten Kittens” or the 25th Flying Training Squadron, the “Shooters” of the 71st Flying Training Wing of the Air Education and Training Command.

The Northrop T-38C Talon II is a two-seat, twin engine, advanced supersonic jet trainer used for Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training (SUPT) for U.S. Air Force pilots making the transition to high performance tactical combat aircraft after basic pilot training.

The T-38 family of advanced trainers is the first-ever supersonic jet trainer. It first flew in April, 1959. Another, single seat version of the aircraft called the Northrop F-5 are used as lightweight, multirole combat aircraft by air forces around the world. An advanced version of the F-5 called the F-20 Tigershark was proposed but never adopted.

The T-38 Talon training jet crashed about 50 miles west of the base, according to a statement released by USAF Tech. Sgt. Erik Cardenas of the 71st Flying Training Wing. No cause for the accident has been given. As with all Air Force flying accidents the cause of the accident will be subject to an official investigation. The weather around the approximate time of the crash in the Enid, Oklahoma area is reported to have been near 80° Fahrenheit, partly cloudy with winds of 13 MPH.

Yesterday’s crash of another T-38 Talon advanced trainer brings the total of crashes in T-38s to three in less than one year. Another T-38C Talon II crashed near Columbus AFB, Mississippi approximately 9 miles north of the city of Columbus on May 23, 2018. Prior to that crash a U.S. Air Force T-38 crashed on Monday, November 20, 2017 outside Lake Amistad, Texas, killing the pilot.

The series of three T-38 accidents continues a trend of U.S. military aviation accidents. There have been eight U.S. Air Force crashes since the beginning of the year including a USAF F-15C Eagle that crashed near Japan on June 11, 2018 and the June 22, 2018 crash of an Embraer A-29 Super Tucano participating the Light Attack Experiment near Holloman AFB. This latest Air Force accident brings the total number of U.S. military aviation crashes in 2018 to 13.

Earlier this year, US Air Force Chief of Staff, General David L. Goldfein ordered all USAF flying and maintenance wings to carry out a one day safety stand-down for an operational review following the increase in flying accidents. While no single contributing factor for the frequency of U.S. military and USAF accidents has been cited, the trend in accidents appears to remain consistent based on Friday’s accident.

Top: A file photo of a USAF T-38 Talon similar to the aircraft that crashed at Vance AFB. (Photo: USAF)

Watch A C-5M Super Galaxy Land at Joint Base San Antonio With No Nosewheel

Video shows a C-5 performing a nose gear-up landing at JB San Antonio last March.

As you may remember, on Mar. 15, 2018, an Air Force Reserve Command C-5M performed nose gear up landing at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas.

A video of the emergency landing has eventually emerged. It show the Super Galaxy with 11 personnel on board (none of those were injured) landing, keeping the nose up before the gentle touchdown and then skidding three-quarters of the way down the 11,500-foot runway before coming to a stop.

As we reported back then, this was the first incident of this kind for the 433rd Airlift Wing, but the second nose gear up landing for a C-5M lin less than one year (the previous incident occurred at Rota Air Base in Spain in May 2017).

Although this incident was an isolated event, we can’t but remember the number of issues affecting the Galaxy‘s nose landing gear in the last couple of years. This is what we wrote in March:

As a consequence of a second malfunction of a C-5’s nose landing gear (occurred on Jul. 15), the U.S. Air Force initially grounded 18 Galaxy cargo planes based at Dover Air Force Base (out of 56 flown by the Air Mobility Command) pending further investigation, on Jul. 18. But, on the very next day, AMC’s Gen. Carlton Everhart ordered a fleetwide assessment of the command’s 56 C-5s.

During the assessment, maintainers found that the ball-screw drive assembly was causing issues with the extension and retraction of the nose landing gear.

The ball-screw assembly was replaced for all C-5s in the fleet (including the aircraft involved in the latest incident) and the Super Galaxy cargo aircraft slowly returned to service: the grounding was lifted for 5 C-5s at the beginning of August; at the beginning of September 2017, 38 out of 56 aircraft were ready to fly again.  On Sept. 18, the first C-5M to ever land at Princess Juliana Airport in St. Maarten, as part of the Hurricane Irma relief efforts, was the example 86-0020, the same involved in a nose gear up landing at Rota Air Base, on May 23, 2017.

Top image: screesnshot from John Q. Public FB video

We Talk to Former Quick Reaction Alert Pilot About How The U.S. Air Force Responds to a Stolen Aircraft

Questions Remain in Stolen Airliner Crash: How Could It Happen? What is The Response?

Nearly 17 years after the 9/11 terror attacks the bizarre stolen aircraft, intercept and crash incident in Washington state on Friday raises serious concerns not only about airline safety but about national security.

How could a person – who is not a pilot- simply take a civilian airliner parked on the ground, get it into the air and create a serious national security risk? What does the Air Force do in an incident like this? And most urgently, after nearly two decades of taking our shoes off at TSA security checks, how could this have ever happened?

As information about the aircraft theft and crash in Washington continues to emerge there remain more questions than answers. In the wake of Friday’s incident TheAviationist.com spoke to two sources inside the airline service/security industry and the U.S. military about the incident and the security countermeasures to prevent incidents like this. We also asked about the U.S. military response to stolen/hijacked aircraft once they get in the air and their level of readiness to respond with lethal force to such an incident. Because both sources we spoke to continue to work in these fields and for the U.S. military they agreed to speak to us only on condition of anonymity.

In late 2016, this reporter visited a flight service provider at Detroit’s Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (DTW). We were given a tour of flight line services provided to airline aircraft that included maintenance and aircraft interior cleaning, sanitation servicing (pumping out aircraft toilets after flights), ground traffic control and most significantly, security.

F-15C Rock 41 departing PDX (Image credit: Bill Shemley)

During our visit to Detroit’s Metro Airport we were notified in advance to park off the airport grounds in an outer lot and use an employee shuttle to enter the flight line service facility. We were required to provide both photo ID and clearance from an authorized person to board the bus used by employees to reach the flight line service provider’s building. Inside the facility, we were required to wear a “guest” ID tab and be escorted by a security badge holder at all times, including restroom visits. Each entry door we used to move from passenger spaces within the airport terminal to the service spaces required a card swipe and/or a security code. Each of these entries is logged in a central security system. Once past the security screen the area was full of employees performing everything from updating a massive spreadsheet that contained all aircraft movement in the airport to ground traffic control. Employees also moved massive volumes of prepared meals to airliners for passengers in flight. Trash was emptied from airliners and trucked off lift vehicles you see from the boarding gates. Chemical toilets on airliners were pumped out and cleaned.

As an ongoing part of security protocols and readiness testing the Transportation Security Administration was conducting unannounced tests of aircraft cleaners and their managers. The TSA would conceal false explosive devices on an airliner prior to cleaning and then covertly observe if the simulated bombs were detected by cleaning crews. In an alarming outcome, our source revealed that there had been numerous failures on the part of contracted aircraft maintenance and cleaning services to locate these simulated bombs. As a result, the contracted service provider at the airport was put on official notice of corrective action. Immediately following our inspection and orientation of the facility and the service provider, several upper level management terminations occurred as a direct result of the failures of these tests in 2016. One upper level employee, our contact, left the airline service industry for a position in financial security following the security test failures in 2016 at DTW.

Based on our examination of airport service provider security protocols, while there were substantial security measures in place including background checks and drug tests for employees, security badges and secure entryways that required a coded entry, all under video surveillance, there were still security breaches among the airport service providers on a fairly regular basis. The TSA maintained a database of the security tests and put the contracted service providers on notice when they failed security tests. This resulted in high employee turnover.

But what happens once the systems on the ground fail and an aircraft is able to get into an airspace without authorization?

We spoke to a former U.S. Air Force F-16 pilot and combat veteran who stood the domestic airspace alert mission in the United States. Because of continuing affiliation with the U.S. armed forces, he agreed to speak to us on condition of anonymity.

Rock 42 scrambling from PDX (Image: Bill Shemley).

We asked our source within the armed forces if fighter aircraft responding to alert intercept calls carry live weapons:

“Aircraft are loaded with live AIM-9M and AIM-120B/C weapons. [There is a] full load of 20-millimeter cannon as well. There are thresholds for launching aircraft based on the unidentified tracks crossing borders or certain types of distress calls including hijacking or stolen airplanes. Likely the aircraft were launched with very little knowledge, potentially only that an uncleared aircraft took off. NORAD orders alert launches. Authorization to release an aircraft like that is typically in order to save lives or stop an attack once other attempts to communicate with the aircraft have failed. If that aircraft is turned toward a population center it would likely have been engaged. That engagement call comes from NORAD, at the O-7 (Brigadier General) level.”

Our source went to say, “It was a fun mission to take off in an instant and blitz across the desert supersonic at god-knows-what. But the responsibilities of what we may have to do was very heavy.”

Pilots flying fighter aircraft in the U.S. on alert for unresponsive aircraft are typically armed according to our USAF source. (Photo: White House via ABC)

On February 16, 2017, just such an intercept occurred over European airspace. A Jet Airways Boeing 777-300 with registration VT-JEX operating as flight 9W-118 from Mumbai, India to London’s Heathrow airport was underway at 36,000 feet (FL360) about 20 miles north of Cologne, Germany when the aircraft lost radio communication with controllers. It was intercepted by two German Luftwaffe Eurofighter Typhoons aircraft due to loss of communication.

Following the 2017 incident, a Jet Airways spokesperson told media in a release: “Contact between Jet Airways flight 9W 118, from Mumbai to London Heathrow, of February 16, 2017, and the local ATC, was briefly lost while flying over German airspace. Communication was safely restored within a few minutes. As a precaution, the German Air Force deployed its aircraft to ensure the safety of the flight and its guests.” Airline officials went on to report that, “The flight with 330 guests and 15 crew subsequently landed at London without incident.”

Similar episodes occur quite frequently in the skies all around the world. In Italy, for instance, there were as many as 8 scrambles of the Italian Air Force QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) Eurofighter Typhoons, due to loss of communication by civilian/general aviation aicraft since the beginning of July alone!

In another recent incident related to military aircraft flying armed security patrol missions a Spanish Air Force Eurofighter Typhoon combat aircraft accidentally fired (at least according to the details emerged so far – it’s not clear whether it “just” released) an AIM-120 Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM) while flying near Otepää in Estonia, less than 50 km west of the Russian border.

In the case of Friday’s theft of an empty 76-seat, twin-engine turboprop Bombardier Q400, belonging to Alaska Airlines’ sister carrier Horizon Air, the aircraft may not have flown near population centers long enough to present a risk that required armed intervention from responding F-15s. Additionally, the person who took the Alaska Airlines Q400 was in communication with controllers and appeared to not openly demonstrate a terrorist agenda. Had they done so, it is possible the outcome of the incident may have included the Q400 being engaged by the responding F-15s.

The threat posed by aircraft being stolen from airports is clearly significant as evidenced by Friday’s incident. Perhaps a greater risk comes from general aviation aircraft and not large commercial aircraft. These aircraft are easy to access and bit easier to operate. Even the commercial, twin-engine turboprop Bombardier Q400 stolen on Friday could be flown by a “pilot” who, based on reports, had only practiced operating the aircraft on a home computer flight simulator. Similar home computer simulators were known to have been used by the 9/11 attackers according to the 9/11 Commission Report issued in July, 2004.

As of 2009, the CIA reported that there were approximately 44,000 “… airports or airfields recognizable from the air” around the world, including 15,095 in the US. Of these flight facilities, there are 5,194 with paved runways. The U.S. has about a third of all airports, and the most of any single country. According to the Airplane Owner’s and Pilot’s Association (AOPA) there are approximately 20,000 airfields in the U.S. without a control tower and only about 500 airports with control towers. Airfields without a control tower are still subject to air traffic control, but from a facility usually located away from the airfield.

In 2010, the Discovery Channel began airing a television reality show called “Airplane Repo” produced by Undertow Films. The show features often reenacted and dramatized stories about aircraft and boats that are being repossessed from debtors by a cast of specialty pilots and private recovery persons who “steal” the airplanes back for banks, creditors and private individuals. Aircraft shown in the series are frequently commandeered without authorization or clearance and flown out of small general aviation airports. In one episode, a helicopter was repossessed by being flown off the rooftop of a high-rise building. Another featured an aircraft repossessed in Mexico and being flown without clearance back into the United States. The producers claim the show depicts actual events that are often re-staged by actors for the series. A key takeaway from the documentary series, that ran on the Discovery Channel for three full seasons until 2015, and from Friday’s incident in Washington state, is that aircraft in the United States are not as secure as they perhaps should be.

“Airplane Repo” was a television reality show aired on the Discovery Channel that claimed to dramatize how easy it may be to repossess aircraft without authorization and get them into the air. (Photo: Discovery Channel)

Top image: Rock 42 scrambles from Portland to intercept the stolen Q400 on Aug. 10, 2018 (Credit: Bill Shemley)

F-15Cs Intercept Stolen DASH-8 Airliner out of Seattle Tacoma Airport Before Crash.

F-15Cs Went Supersonic During Intercept of Stolen Airliner as Airspace Secured. Here Are Audio and Videos Of the Intercept.

In a bizarre incident originating from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in Washington state an Alaska Airlines/Horizon Air Bombardier Dash 8 twin-engine turboprop commuter airliner was commandeered by a lone male, reported to be an airport maintenance worker, and crashed into the ground on Ketron Island, which is southwest of Tacoma, in south Puget Sound. There were no passengers on board the aircraft. Ketron Island has only about 20 year-round residents according to news outlets. The lone man did not survive and is being reported as the only person killed in the incident.

File photo of an Alaska Airlines/Horizon Air Bombardier Dash 8 airliner similar to the one stolen and crashed on Friday, August 10, 2018. (Photo: AlaskaAirlines)

The aircraft was intercepted by a pair of F-15C Eagles from the 142nd Fighter Wing of the Oregon Air National Guard launched from Portland International Airport. The F-15s “broke the sound barrier” on the way to intercept the stolen airliner according to numerous reports on Twitter and from local Washington state news media. Facebook users reported hearing sonic booms over Eatonville.

Photos taken of one of the F-15C Eagles by aviation photographer Russell Hill taking off for the scramble/interception show them in full afterburner. The F-15Cs were also authorized to launch counter-measure flares during their attempts to divert the stolen Dash 8 commuter airliner and force it to land. Infra-red flares are normally launched by tactical aircraft to produce a heat source as a decoy for heat-seeking missiles.

Here are two photographs taken by Bill Shemley of Rock 41 and Rock 42 taking off from Portland.

Rock 41 taking off from Portland. Note the loadout: 2x AIM-9 and 4x AIM-120. Credit: Bill Shemley.

Video posted on Twitter and featured by multiple news media has shown the Dash 8 performing aerobatic maneuvers including going inverted and almost crashing into the sea.

Additional video shows the F-15Cs flying in close proximity to the Dash 8. A reporter from local news station and ABC affiliate WMUR/Channel 9 said that, “F-15s forced the stolen aircraft away from houses out over less populated areas.”

The incident is not being reported as a “hijacking” since no passengers were on board the stolen Dash 8 at the time of the incident. It is instead being reported as a stolen aircraft incident.

Transcripts of radio communications from scanners suggest the man who stole the Dash 8 was not a pilot and had only practiced flying on a simulator. He spoke with air traffic controllers who were trying to convince him to attempt to land the aircraft.

Air traffic in the region was halted during the incident but has since been resumed. Significant delays out of Seattle Tacoma Airport are being reported.

Top image shows Rock 41 taking off from Portland. Credit: Bill Shemley.

Spanish Eurofighter Typhoon Accidentally Fires Live Air-to-Air Missile Over Estonia, 25 miles west of the Russian border.

Live AIM-120 AMRAAM Missile Still Missing with Search Underway.

A Spanish Air Force Eurofighter Typhoon combat aircraft accidently fired an AIM-120 Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM) while flying near Otepää in Estonia, less than 50 km west of the Russian border. The missile has not been recovered. The last assumed location of the missile is roughly 40 km to the north of the city of Tartu, and its direction was northbound.  The incident took place on Tuesday, August 7, 2018 sometime around 3:45 PM local.

A search is currently underway for the wreckage of the missile. According to a statement by Estonian Defense Forces, the AIM-120 AMRAAM was equipped with an automatic destruct mechanism intended to destroy the missile if it were accidentally discharged, but officials could not confirm if the missile had been destroyed. They have issued an official hotline phone number in Estonia to call immediately if parts of the missile are found, and the public is cautioned not to touch or approach suspected missile debris. The phone number to report suspected missile fragments in Estonia is: +372 717 1900.

AIM-120 AMRAAM on an Italian F-16 back in 2007. (Image credit: SCDBob via Wiki)

The Eurofighter Typhoon that accidentally fired the missile was based at Šiauliai, Lithuania, where it returned following the incident. Conflicting reports say the aircraft had either been participating in a training exercise or a QRA (quick reaction alert) drill: considered that alert aircraft carry live missiles, the latter seems more likely, even though aerial exercises in the context of enhanced air policing operations may involve armed aircraft.

The aircraft that accidentally discharged the missile was accompanied by another Spanish Typhoon and two French Mirage 2000 according to Estonia’s Ministry of Defense. This means the Eurofighter Typhoon C.16 was one of the six aircraft contingent from the Spanish military that assists with the NATO enhanced air policing mission in the region along with other aircraft. The air policing mission has received significant notoriety over the last years because of increased Russian air activity in the region, with the NATO air policing patrols frequently tasked with interception and escort of Russian aircraft.

Estonia’s Prime Minister Juri Ratas posted on Facebook that there were “No human casualties,” and characterized the incident as “extremely regrettable.”

He went on to say, “I am sure that the Estonian defense forces will, in cooperation with our allies, identify all the circumstances of the case and make every effort to make sure that nothing like this happens again.”

The incident calls into question the protocols associated with using live weapons in close proximity to civilian areas, and also raises concerns about the safety of the NATO air policing mission. What are the procedures for firing a live missile? How can a missile be fired by “accident”? Isn’t there a sort of Master Armament Switch that prevents arming the missiles?

This incident does appear to be unique however, with other accidental discharges of air-to-air missiles, especially in areas proximate to NATO patrol areas, being non-existent. In general, these patrol flights have historically exhibited a good safety record, free from accidental weapons releases.

H/T @juanmab for the heads-up!