I stumbled across this excellent piece by Mark Thompson of Time’s Battleland blog today. It details the events that led to the crash of an F-16 on December 27 of 2012.
This accident teaches us of the dangers of complacency, pushing, and procedural errors. From the article:
The mishap pilot attempted three over the top (vertical loop) maneuvers during the second and third basic flight maneuver sets. During the initial maneuver of the second Basic Fighter Maneuver set, as exhibited in the unclassified HUD tape, the mishap pilot completed a 278 knot setup with continuous activation of the low speed warning tone for approximately eight seconds without a TERMINATE/KNOCK IT OFF. During the second maneuver of the second set, the MP completed a 260 knot setup with continuous activation of the low speed warning tone for approximately 12 seconds without a TERMINATE/KIO. During the final setup that led to departure, the mishap pilot reached a maximum airspeed of 241 knots and continuously activated the low speed warning tone for approximately 10 seconds without a TERMINATE/KIO. This low speed state coupled with inappropriate/aggressive recovery maneuvers, as discussed below, predisposed the mishap aircraft to an uncontrolled departure.
These instances of progressively borderline starting airspeeds for over the top maneuvers, excessive time spent within the low speed warning tone with little urgency to terminate or recover, and aggressive maneuvering in a low speed state indicated a tendency of pressing beyond reasonable limits. This tendency ultimately placed the mishap aircraft in a position where departure [from controlled flight] was imminent…
Aviation is an incredibly safe enterprise. Sometimes, that safety – which comes from rigorous adherence to checklists and procedures and a safety mindset – can breed a false sense of security. That false sense of security can lead pilots to further ignore the checklists and procedures which aid safety. And when nothing bad happens despite a complacent attitude, the attitude deepens…until one day, you crash a $21-million-dollar F-16 into a hillside.
Like sailing, climbing, hiking, or any other life-enhancing experience, flying can feel absolutely amazing; it can set your mind free and bring you great joy. Also similar to those activities, flying can end your life in the blink of an eye if you fail to respect it.
Don’t let complacency kill you or wreck your plane. Fly safely, follow your checklists, and do your due diligence.