March 3, 2007 (by Erik Slavin) - A staff sergeant who watched as one airman attempted and another threw a small frog into a running F-16 jet engine received three months in jail and a bad conduct discharge in a Kunsan Air Base courtroom Friday night.
Engine inlet of an F-16B block 15
Staff Sgt. Aaron F. Wilson, of the 35th Aircraft Maintenance Unit, also received a reduction in rank to E-1 on three specifications of dereliction of duty.
Military Judge Lt. Col. Eric Dillow sentenced Wilson to four months in jail, but the sentence was reduced due to a pretrial plea agreement.
The incident was filmed using Wilson's camera and posted on his public myspace.com Web site, where it remained for nine days.
The grainy video displayed the 8th Fighter Wing's "Wolf Pack" tail markings.
Kunsan's fleet of 41 jets was grounded so every engine could be checked for potential problems following the frog toss, said wing vice commander Col. Preston Thompson, a former F-16 pilot instructor who testified Friday.
Thompson "got calls from all over the Air Force (asking) "What's wrong with the Wolf Pack?'" following the grounding, he said.
More than 400 maintainers worked over the weekend to check the engines and dispel the possibility that other engines were similarly mistreated, Thompson said.
"I cannot fathom someone intentionally putting something down the intake of an aircraft," Thompson added.
The single-engine F-16 was being checked on June 26, 2006, inside a "hush house," where maintenance work is performed when noisy engines are cranked up at high capacity.
One of the first things maintenance airmen are taught is not to bring any foreign objects into the hush house, including cameras or debris, several non-commissioned officers testified.
During testimony, prosecutor Maj. Jennifer Kramme showed Master Sgt. William Beasley II a foreign object no bigger than a pebble and asked if one of them was dangerous.
"To smaller (engine) blades, this could be catastrophic," Beasley replied.
Defense attorney Jonathan Wasden countered during closing arguments that according to General Electric, the F-16 engine could withstand a hit from a four-pound bird moving at 750 feet per second.
However, others testified that the smallest objects could cause cracks and other problems that could grow over time.
Last month, Sr. Airman Welland Wilkerson was sentenced to 30 days in jail and reduction in rank to E-1 for throwing the frog at the engine, although he missed. Wilkerson's sentence was commuted to reduction in rank to E-2 by the wing commander, legal officials said.
A trial date has not yet been set for Staff Sgt. Herman Elizee, who ultimately tossed the frog in the engine.