The pilot of an Air Force F-16 that crashed in Utah's western desert in November may have thought he had enough airspeed to carry out a loop maneuver - because he saw what he expected to see when he looked at the plane's speed indicator.
Instead, says an opinion by the accident investigator officer, Capt. Christopher Rappa's plane was traveling too slowly for the over-the-top maneuver and went into a stall. He bailed out safely during the Nov. 28, 1995, crash, but the jet was destroyed when it plowed into the desert.The F-16 Flying Falcon was part of the 388th Fighter Wing, stationed at Hill Air Force Base. The accident happened about 50 miles south of Dugway Proving Ground, during a training mission over the Air Force's Utah Test and Training Range.
An investigation showed that the pilot maneuvered the plane into a position where he did not have enough air speed to perform the "over-the-top" maneuver and lost control. An investigative board concluded that he had one chance to recover the aircraft but didn't make the correct actions "due to human factors."
An opinion by the accident investigation officer, Lt. Col. Jack D. Coulter Jr., says the plane was at a 70-degree angle, nose up, when it went out of control. The parameters, including speed, "are practically the only way to get the F-16 to hang up in a deep-stall condition," he wrote.
The air speed indicator was 220 knots.
"The pilot stated that he saw 275 knots on the airspeed indicator," Coulter wrote. "He felt that was sufficient airspeed for the incident maneuver."
Coulter added, "He expected to see sufficient airspeed on the airspeed indicator for the maneuver . . . and indeed perceived it as such."
Also, Rappa did not make the correct flight control moves to recover the aircraft.
The investigation found no indication that Rappa performed the maneuver knowing it was dangerous or would potentially lead to a loss of control. The report views the accident as an unfortunate mistake.
Rappa was highly qualified and his peers considered him to be an above-average pilot. "He was considered a professional aviator that flew by the book and did not have occasional problems complying with the rules," the report adds.
"From all the testimony, Capt. Rappa does not seem like the kind of pilot that would maliciously conduct this maneuver knowing it would put him out of control."