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  • Pilot Error In C-17 Crash
    Posted by Bill Sweetman 2:06 PM on Dec 13, 2010

    The USAF has released the results of its investigation into the fatal crash of a Boeing C-17 at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska on July 28. It did not take long. 

    The aircraft was in full working order when it hit the ground and the weather was fine. The C-17 stalled in a steep, tight low-altitude turn. It did so because the pilot, practicing for an air display, disregarded flight limitations:  climbing out at an unsafe speed, levelling off at 850 feet rather than the normal 1500 feet for a display and turning at low speed and excessive bank angles.

    The pilot ignored stall warnings and continued to maintain nose-up control pressure after the aircraft stalled, eliminating any chance of recovery.


    USAF video

    The aircraft commander - the C-17 wing's lead demonstration pilot with 3,250 hours on type - had repeatedly exceeded aircraft limits during displays and had (among other things) instructed other pilots that stall warnings during the display routine were "an anomaly" that could be ignored. His motivation, the report said, was "to put on a good show".

    But the question is not so much "why did this happen?" as "How did this happen again?"

    At Fairchild AFB in Washington in June 1994, B-52 Czar 52 took off for a display practice, flown by the unit's lead demonstration pilot, Lt Col Arthur "Bud" Holland. At the end of the routine, the B-52 had to perform a go-around because a KC-135 had not cleared the runway. With permission from the tower, Holland started a 360-degree turn - but at 250 feet with an extreme bank angle. As the bank angle passed 60 degrees left with airspeed bleeding off, either Holland or the co-pilot attempted to roll the aircraft right while pulling back. The aircraft stalled and crashed and all four crew died.

    The investigation proved to be a milestone in terms of military crew resource management. It showed that Holland had frequently violated flight limits in the B-52, that crews had refused to fly with him and that the unit's deputy commander for operations (subsequently found guilty of dereliction of duty) had failed to stop the pattern of errors. The event set the theme for a book on "rogue pilots" and has been a teaching point in many air forces for more than a decade.

    I suspect we'll be hearing more about Elmendorf.

    Tags: ar99, elmendorf, C-17

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