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14th of September 2003, Blog #537

Updated: Sep 14, 2022

On this day in 2003, the United States Air Force (USAF) Thunderbirds were performing at the Mountain Home Air Force Base in Idaho (USA).

As part of the display sequence Thunderbird-6, a General Dynamics F-16C Block 32J Fighting Falcon. would take off and immediately perform a maximum climb and Split-S manoeuvre.

The pilot ejects, less then 1 second before the aircraft crashes

SSgt Bennie J. Davis III, USAF)

This meant the aircraft would accelerate down the runway, lift off and climb at 55° nose up to a height of 3,500 feet above the ground, rolls to an inverted position and performs a descending inside half loop. This results in the aircraft returning to level flight in the opposite direction, upright, and at a considerably lower altitude. The Split-S manouvre (Open Source)

Video of the crash, external and internal view

(Source © Unknown)

The pilot of Thunderbird-6 used a wrong mean-sea-level elevation of Mountain Home AFB, which was actually 1100 feet (340 meter) higherthan the Thunderbird home base at Nelis AFB. This resulted in the pilot only climbing to 1670 ft (510 m) AGL (Above Ground Level0 in stead of 2500 ft (760 meters) AGL. At the top of the climb the pilot rolled the aircraft on its back and pichted the aircraft down. When approaching the vertical position in the manouvre the pilot realised he was already to low to complete the manouvre. Full back pressure on the stick was applied as the pilot steered the aircraft down the runway and away from the crowds and ejected 140 feet (43 meters) above the ground, 0.8 seconds later the $20.400.000,-- F-16 crashed and was completely destroyed. The pilot sustained minor injuries and there were eno other injuries.

Video analysis of the crash by AVweb (Source; As a result of the crash and the subsequent investigation the procedures regarding the performance if the Split-S procedure were changed, the USAF now requires the use of above-MSL (Mean-Sea-Level), additionally Thunderbirds pilot climb an additional 1000 ft (300 meter) before flying a Split-S. ** Editorial note **

V2 Aviation - Training & Maintenance has not been able to obtain an USAF investigation report on this accident. This blog is therefore based on several internet sources. Should there be an inconsistency in the blog don't hesitate to get in touch with us. There are two possibilities to do that, via the comments function at the bottom of this page or via the contact page of the website.

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