<b>From Air Force Times, Bruce Rolfson</b>
Issue Date: May 31, 2004
Pilot killed after F-16s collide over Indiana
Air Force boards seek cause in death of 'Padre'
By Bruce Rolfsen
Times staff writer
An Air National Guard major lost his life apparently after ejecting from his
F-16C Fighting Falcon which had collided with another F-16C while practicing
air-to-to air combat May 17.
Killed in the accident was Maj. William E. Burchett, 35, of the Indiana Air
National Guard's 181st Fighter Wing in Terre Haute, a Guard statement said.
The pilot of the other jet, Maj. Thomas R. Sims, also of the 181st wing, survived
the collision and safely ejected.
The two jets struck hard and high enough to make residents believe there had been
a sonic boom, said Lisa Hall of Oaktown, Ind.
When Hall walked outside her home, she saw Burchett plummeting to the ground with
his parachute flapping like a rag above him, she said.
Hall and her husband rushed to where Burchett had landed in hopes he had
survived, but found him dead. Hall said they saw no signs of the parachute or
cords being burned or torn.
Debris from the planes was scattered for miles across the countryside in Indiana
and nearby Illinois.
The Tribune-Star newspaper in Terre Haute reported the debris included what
appeared to pieces of a flight suit and a pilot's glove.
How Burchett died and what led to the collision are being looked at by separate
Air Force safety and investigation boards.
Burchett is among the handful of F-16 pilots who lost their lives while using the
Advanced Concept Ejection Seat II.
Air Force figures show that since the ACES II seat went into regular service in
1978, there have been 410 ejections. In 91 percent of the ejections, the aircrew
Those who died most often ejected when their plane was flying too fast or too low
- outside the seat's safe-performance envelope.
To start the process in an F-16, the pilot has to pull a handle attached to the
seat between his legs, ACES II experts from the 311th Human Systems Wing at
Brooks City Base, Texas, said.
Once the pilot has pulled the handle, the seat functions automatically - blasting
off the canopy, rocketing the seat out of the plane, deploying the parachute and
releasing the pilot from the seat. The entire process takes less than two
If Burchett started the ejection sequence, several factors could have complicated
the follow-on steps, said Kevin Coyne, who follows ejection-seat issues and runs
the Web site www.ejectionsite.com.
Coyne said the seat and parachute could have been damaged by the collision or
Burchett might have been struck by debris.
Such was the case in December 2002, when an A-10 Thunderbolt pilot ejected from
his plane after a midair collision. His parachute opened but a fireball damaged
some cords, investigators concluded. The pilot couldn't regain control of the
parachute and died when he hit the ground.
Burchett, call sign "Padre," had logged 2,300 hours in fighters and training
jets. He was a 1991 graduate of the Air Force Academy and joined the Guard in
Burchett is survived by two sons and his wife, Deborah, who is expecting their