Two F-16Cs collided head-on and crashed during training at Bulldog Military Operation Area near Louisville, Ga., June 7, 2016, after a pilot failed to ensure flight path deconfliction and separation of aircraft, according to an Air Combat Command Accident Investigation Board report released April 27.
Both pilots were unable to regain control of their aircraft and ejected shortly after the collision sustaining minor injuries. Both aircraft were destroyed after impacting the ground in a rural area, damaging private property.
The mishap occurred during a night training sortie, while the aircraft were operating in a visual wedge formation.
At approximately 9:13 p.m., pilot two radioed that his aircraft had reached a low fuel level that required training termination and an immediate return to the base. After this radio transmission, pilot one did not call “Knock it off” to terminate tactical maneuvering for all aircraft that were part of the training, and began an unannounced left turn to rejoin the second aircraft to return to base. At the same time, pilot two had already begun to follow the first aircraft’s external lights using visual cues, but did not cross-check available sensors to confirm pilot one’s position. Pilot two did not realize that pilot one was heading directly towards him and pointed directly at the first aircraft’s external lights in an attempt to acquire a visual mode radar lock while descending from his sanctuary altitude. The second pilot acquired radar lock with 2,500 feet separation, but still did not recognize the conflict. At the last fraction of a second, both aircraft initiated a left bank away from the other and their high right wings collided.
The Board President concluded the cause of the mishap was pilot two’s failure to fulfill his primary responsibility to ensure flight path deconfliction and separation of aircraft. Additionally, the AIB found two contributing factors to the mishap. The first contributing factor was that the first pilot did not terminate tactical maneuvering following pilot two’s low fuel call. The second contributing factor was that both pilots overly relied on visual cues from external aircraft lighting to judge critical flight parameters.
Pilot one was assigned to the 316th Fighter Squadron, 169th Fighter Wing, McEntire Joint National Guard Base, S.C. Pilot two was assigned to the 157th Fighter Squadron, 169th Fighter Wing, McEntire Joint National Guard Base, S.C.
At the time of the mishap, both pilots were medically qualified for flying duties. Pilot one had 1961 flying hours in the F-16, and pilot two had approximately 1677 flight hours in the F-16.
The total loss to the U.S. government is estimated at $60.8 million, and the environmental clean-up cost was estimated at $90,000.