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Several factors caused F-16 crash in Italy

January 18, 2008 (by Kent Harris) - An Air Force report blames the September 18th, 2007 crash of an F-16CG on a wide range of factors, including weather, plane malfunction and pilot action.

USAF F-16C block 40 #88-0529 from the 510th FS seen in better days.

The report, issued by US Air Force in Europe on Friday afternoon, is the result of an investigation in October and November chaired by Col. Jack L. Briggs II, who signed the executive summary.

According to the report, a drip ring in the device that tells the aircraft its trajectory froze as the plane flew through thunderstorms over the base. The result was that plane computers continued to receive the same information, even as it climbed in altitude and lost air speed. The incorrect information also fooled the sophisticated aircraft from correcting itself in time to prevent an uncontrolled spin.

The pilot, Maj. Timothy Parker, ejected from the aircraft about 18 minutes after he took off from the base on a training flight. He was about 6,000 feet above the mountains north of the base — and approximately 9,840 feet above sea level — when he ejected. Seconds later, the plane crashed near the mountain village of Soramae di Zolto Alto. The Air Force estimates the value of the lost aircraft at more than $26.8 million. No one on the ground was injured, and Parker escaped injury himself and was helped to a nearby Carabinieri station by a local motorist.

According to the report, the problem with the ring has surfaced before in at least three other F-16 crashes. "The Air Force has contracted with an avionics company to begin the redesign ... by early 2008," the report states.

Severe thunderstorms contributed to all facets of the incident, the report states.

It also casts blame on weather information relayed to the pilots. Military weather forecasters provided the pilots with information that indicated there would be pockets of navigable air, though pilot testimony indicated they found "embedded thunderstorms and a wall of clouds that made almost all of North Zita airspace unusable."

Italian forecasters had largely predicted the correct conditions, but that information was not shared with the pilots.

And the pilot evaluating Parker on the flight that could have led to his certification as an instructor pilot received blame for not directing the mission away from the thunderstorms and not taking action when he realized that Parker's plane was climbing too high and losing speed.

The ill-fated mission was to feature Parker and three other pilots from the 510th Fighter Squadron engaging two other F-16s from Aviano in mock air-to-air combat. The aircraft that Parker was originally going to use was grounded due to a malfunction with the oxygen regulation panel. So he climbed into another F-16. That jet indicated problems with radar and its inertial navigation system, which were quickly corrected by maintenance personnel on the ground. One of the three pilots who was supposed to accompany him also was grounded before takeoff and didn't participate in the mission.

According to the report, Parker was only in the air for about eight minutes before the jet's computer stopped functioning properly. The report said that he likely experienced spacial distortion — losing his orientation of where the aircraft was to the ground — at one point.

According to data recovered from the plane, he tried taking corrective steps once he realized there was a problem. It said he did so "out of order and incorrectly" but an analysis indicated that even doing so properly "would not have affected recovery of the aircraft."

Published on January 18th, 2008 in the European edition of Stars and Stripes.
Used with permission from Stars and Stripes, a DoD publication.
© 2008 Stars and Stripes.