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F-16 Fighting Falcon News

Board releases Luke F-16 accident report

October 8, 2003 (by Lieven Dewitte) - Air Force officials have determined a bird strike caused the crash of an F-16 Fighting Falcon on June 13 at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz.
The fighter jet's single engine lost thrust when it ingested a Turkey vulture shortly after takeoff, according to the accident investigation report released Oct. 7 by Air Education and Training Command.

The aircraft (#85-1445) was flying 800 feet above the runway at the time of the incident.

The pilot, Capt. Valentine Arbogast of the 61st Fighter Squadron, was the flight lead of a four-ship formation flying a low-level training mission at Gila Bend Auxiliary Airfield. The mission included simulated bombing attacks and simulated flameout approaches.

He was beginning a left hand turn to depart the airfield when he saw a "black blur" disappear underneath the nose of his aircraft and felt an immediate loss of thrust. In response, he began a climb to try to enter the flameout landing pattern, but the engine continued to lose thrust throughout the maneuver.

After climbing 580 feet, Arbogast realized he would be unable to land the aircraft back at Gila Bend, turned the aircraft away from airfield buildings and ejected.

The investigation report noted that Gila Bend Auxiliary field does not have a program such as Luke's where propane cannons and other devices scare birds away.

Such a program might not have prevented the accident, but it could have reduced the likelihood that a large bird would be around the runway during F-16 maneuvers, the report noted. It also said there was evidence around the field of burrows of rodents and other small animals that are prey for large raptors.

According to the report, since 1998, Luke has had 205 bird strikes, Gila Bend has had two and 75 have occurred at other locations outside Luke and Gila Bend.

Lt. Col. Laurent Fox, a Luke spokesman, said that damage caused by birds to jets depends on the speed of the F-16, the birds' sizes, where they hit the jets and whether they get sucked into the engine.