The Department of Defense considers any incident that costs more than $ 2 million, or results in the total loss of an aircraft, and / or causes death or permanent physical disability, to be a Class A incident. the US Air Force are expensive to buy, and damage costs a lot of money to repair. Here is an overview of some Air Force incidents and their impact on those involved.
B-2 Loss of mind
In 2008, a B-2 Spirit crashed at Anderson AFB, Guam. As a total loss, the incident cost over $ 1 billion. Look again: a billion dollars. That accident alone killed nearly five percent of the B-2 fleet, forever. Was it the battle damage that caused the crash? Maybe poor quality maintenance played a role? Were the pilots drunk, too tired to fly, or were they demonstrating? None of the above.
Heavy rains were the cause. The B-2 is an aircraft that needs an air-conditioned hangar to live. Moisture has accumulated under the aircraft’s skin panels which contain sensors. These sensors then fed faulty data to the flight control systems, causing the jet to spin for takeoff at just 12 knots slower than it should have. It’s only a little over 13 mph, slower than the speed required for a school zone. This lower speed meant that the Spirit did not have enough airflow over the wings to generate the required lift.
The aircraft nosed down, the crew attempted to recover, and the tip of the left wing struck the ground. Once that happened, the conclusion was lost. The crew ejected a few feet above the ground and milliseconds before the jet hit the ground for good. Both crew members survived the crash, the pilot was treated and released, and the co-pilot was hospitalized with a compression fracture of the spine and later released. The plane was a total loss.
Losses of the F-22 Raptor
Between 2004 and 2020, the F-22 program recorded five total casualties due to incidents. With a price tag of $ 150 million a piece, that’s a total of $ 750 million lost simply to the F-22 program. While the $ 750 million price tag is staggering, the ramifications of these crashes are the real factor. In those five total casualties, two pilots were killed: David Cooley, a 49-year-old Air Force veteran test pilot for Lockheed Martin; and Alaska-based Captain Jeff Haney.
These two incidents were attributed to causes related to the pilot. David Cooley’s accident in 2009 was attributed to possible loss of consciousness due to the g-force. Captain Jeff Haney’s accident in 2010 was attributed to his failure to use emergency oxygen when the aircraft’s oxygen system shut down.
F-35A lightning losses
The Air Force lost two F-35 Lightning between 2004 and 2020. The first dates back to 2014, when engine turbine blades brushed against their enclosures, causing an engine fire. The plane was written off as a total loss. The second, in 2020, was attributed to pilot error and fatigue. With a price tag of around $ 78 million per plane, that adds up to over $ 150 million. Neither incident resulted in fatalities, on the ground or in the air.
The higher cost of air force mishaps
The dollar numbers attached to these types of incidents are only part of the story. Even without loss of life or crippling injuries, the Air Force is seriously affected when this happens. Crews involved in accidents must go through an investigative process. Their lives and careers leading up to this point are dissected; their motives are called into question; and their state of mind is examined under the proverbial microscope. The Air Force begins to wonder if the other jets on the ramp are safe. It calls into question the effectiveness of training or maintenance.
Aircraft maintenance technicians who worked on the aircraft have their training records sequestered, are sent to pee in a cup, and are taken to an office to be interviewed by investigators. Their motives, their state of mind and all their actions are scrutinized.
The psychological cost
When an Air Force jet crashes, each maintainer pauses and dissects their own thoughts: “Did I work on this plane?” What systems have I affected? It was not me. Which then? Was it Franck? Holy God, what will happen to him? Thank goodness that wasn’t my name on the airplane forms! Maintenance managers are questioning almost every maintenance action they’ve taken in the past few weeks.
Pilots and crews remember the last time they flew with this particular tail number. They question their own perceptions and wonder if they could have seen anything that contributed to the crash: “Was this system working fine last time around?” Should I have pointed out this misreading which mysteriously fixed itself? If I had, would this plane have crashed?
Commanders and planners wonder if the flying hours schedule is too stacked: “Did we fly too much? Too many crew changes, both for maintenance and flight crew? Has the flight been sufficiently disrupted recently to shake the confidence of the crews? Are the crews sufficiently trained before taking the handle of a new jet? “
After a mishap, there are plenty of questions. Investigators, flight leaders, supervisors and commanders all have questions. However, some of the more difficult questions come from within: “Will these maintainers ever hesitate before turning another key?” Will these pilots never hesitate before they buckle up and flip the switches? How is maintenance and flight efficiency impacted, as it certainly is? “
In 2018, a one-day safety suspension in light of recent Class A incidents was ordered by the Air Force. It was a day to take a break and reflect on the incredible responsibility that aviation careers entail. One day to take stock; take a close look at training, culture and morale; and reset.
Anyone involved in an incident, especially Class A, has already thought about it. They have already looked at their abilities and responsibilities and most likely have questioned every aspect of their career so far. They can decide if this is really the career they want by questioning their own commitment and weighing the pros and cons of staying. Almost certainly they wonder if this could happen to them.
One thing is certain, however: their time in the Air Force will never be the same as before.
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