August 21, 2005 (by Lieven Dewitte) - An aerial performance by the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds was cut short Saturday after a missile rail fell from an F-16C during the Chicago Air and Water Show. It seems that the right wingtip missile rail of the "slot," or number-four, touched the left horizontal stabilizer of the right wingman and thus broke off.
USAF Thunderbirds sidewinder launch rail details photographed at Dover AFB on May 16th, 2004.
The incident took place during the first few minutes of the Thunderbirds' show. Seconds before the piece fell off, the planes had streaked over the crowded beach.
The four-foot-long missile rail appeared to fall into Lake Michigan as four of the Thunderbirds' fighter F-16s banked upward in their trademark diamond formation.
All six F-16s landed safely at the Gary-Chicago Airport, Ind., after the incident. No one was injured.
The two pilots involved had logged at least 1,300 hours each in the F-16, but they were new to their formation positions this season.
Thunderbird right wing pilot, Maj. Chris Callahan
returned this season after a two-year hiatus. And Maj. Steve Horton
is in his first season flying in the no.4 slot position.
The Thunderbirds performed the diamond maneuver thousands of time. Over Lake Michigan, about 18 inches apart this time, the planes drifted.
The last time contact was reported between Thunderbirds jets was in 1999 when two F-16s touched during a diamond formation take off
at a Florida air show.
Chicago Police marine units were dispatched to a section of Lake Michigan where authorities believe the carbon fiber object landed, to attempt to retrieve the rail. They were however unable to locate it.
The Air Force said it is taking no chances, and immediately dispatched a safety team to inspect all of the aircraft.