Secret Drone Crash, B-1 Engine Malfunction Among Major 2019 Air Force Mishaps

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B-1 Lancer Tinker Air Force Base
The B-1 Lancer receives dedicated structural repair and maintenance at Tinker Air Force Base, Okla., Aug. 23, 2018. (U.S. Air Force photo/Kelly White)

A B-1B Lancer bomber undergoing maintenance at Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma, suffered an abnormal restart in one of its four engines, causing the destruction of an engine bearing.

The Sept. 24, 2019, accident is still under investigation. But because the bearing, or materials that support the shafts in turbofan engines, was destroyed, repair costs were high -- $2 million just to fix the engine -- and it had to take time out of service in an era of limits-pushing high demand in the B-1 community.

Earlier in the year, an unidentified unmanned aerial vehicle, which, like the B-1, belonged to Air Force Materiel Command, crashed somewhere in the world. The only details officials could provide to Military.com were that the drone, which crashed shortly after takeoff on May 21, 2019, was considered a "Group 4" class drone, weighing roughly 1,300 pounds, in the same size category as an MQ-8B Fire Scout or MQ-1C Gray Eagle. It was "not an XQ-58A Valkyrie," which is currently undergoing testing with AFMC's Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, said spokesman Derek Kaufman.

The calamities were just two of 28 Class A aviation-related mishaps, or accidents that involve fatalities, severe damage totaling $2 million or more or a complete loss of the aircraft, that the Air Force sustained in fiscal 2019, according to data recently provided exclusively to Military.com.

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The mishaps included two fatalities and six destroyed aircraft, said Keith A. Wright, spokesman for the Air Force Safety Center, headquartered at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico.

Most of the in-flight mishaps occurred within the F-22 Raptor stealth fighter community -- a total of six, the documents show. Of the six, four of the fifth-generation fighters hailed from the 3rd Wing at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska. The aircraft that sustained the most accidents on the ground was another fifth-gen jet, the F-35A Joint Strike Fighter, with a total of four mishaps. Three of those were due to foreign object debris (FOD) that entered the F-35's engine, according to the documents.

The total number of incidents in fiscal 2019 represents a slight drop "from the 30 aviation Class A mishaps, 19 fatalities and 12 destroyed aircraft recorded the previous year," Wright said in an email earlier this month. Air Force Magazine first reported the rate decline in November. However, 2019 saw 17 fewer fatalities and half as many destroyed aircraft.

The Air Force saw a spike in aviation mishaps in fiscal 2018, which prompted various reviews across major commands and even a "one-day pause" in operations to conduct a safety review. Manned aviation Class A mishaps had increased 48 percent in fiscal 2018 as of May 2 over the previous year, according to Air Force data. The service had lost 18 service members as of May 2, 2018, which notably included nine WC-130 aircrew in a fatal crash outside Savannah, Georgia.

The 2019 overall accident rate tied with fiscal 2011 "for the lowest number of aviation fatalities in Air Force history and the second lowest year for destroyed aircraft," Wright said.

Class A aviation mishap rates "finished slightly higher than the 10-year average due to an increase in costs associated with foreign object damage and advanced technologies related to mishaps in newer airframes," he said.

Here are the in-flight, ground and flight-related accidents that took place (sorted by date) in fiscal 2019:

  • Two CV-22B Ospreys belonging to the 1st Special Operations Wing at Hurlburt Field, Florida, collided when one taxied into the other on Oct. 2, 2018. The rotor blades and rudder section of the taxiing V-22 were damaged, but otherwise no injuries were reported on the flight line. The accident was labeled as occurring within the United States.
  • A C-17 Globemaster III of the 437th Airlift Wing at Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina, suffered an engine failure on Oct. 3, 2018, in Afghanistan prior to takeoff. No injuries were reported.
  • During an F-35A aircraft launch, a "headset mouthpiece" labeled as FOD was ingested into the aircraft's engine on Oct. 4, 2018. The F-35 belonged to the 56th Fighter Wing at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona. No injuries were reported.
  • An F-22 Raptor at Alaska's Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson made an emergency landing on a base runway Oct. 10, 2018. The aircraft, of the 3rd Wing, sustained damage, including a collapsed landing gear. No injuries were reported.
  • An MQ-9 from the 432nd Wing at Creech Air Force Base, Nevada, experienced loss of thrust during an operational mission on Oct. 27, 2018. The aircraft crashed and was destroyed. While location data was unavailable, media reports at the time said the crash occurred in Paktika province, Afghanistan.
  • An F-35 from the 388th Fighter Wing at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, experienced engine FOD while on the ground Nov. 8, 2018. No injuries were reported.
  • On Nov. 9, 2018, an F-16CM Fighting Falcon had an unidentified mishap after it "departed the prepared surface on landing," according to the documents. The F-16 was from the 20th Fighter Wing at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina. The country where the accident occurred was not listed. There were no reported injuries.
  • A T-38 Talon of the 47th Flying Training Wing went down during a routine touch-and-go flight certification at Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas, on Nov. 13, 2018. Capt. John F. Graziano, 28, an instructor pilot with the 87th Flying Training Squadron, was killed in the crash. Capt. Mark S. Palyok, also an instructor pilot with the unit, was injured. Both pilots had initiated an ejection, but only Palyok bailed out. The aircraft was destroyed at a total cost of $11 million, the documents said.
  • An MQ-9 drone from the 432nd Wing, Creech Air Force Base, sustained a partial electrical failure, causing it to land with its gear up on Nov. 16, 2018. The accident occurred in the U.S.; no injuries were reported.
  • An F-22 Raptor assigned to 3rd Wing, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, skidded off the side of an Elmendorf runway on Nov. 26, 2018. The right landing gear was damaged, the documents said. The pilot was able to exit the aircraft safely and was not injured.
  • A student piloting an F-15C Eagle out of the 173rd Fighter Wing, Kingsley Field, Oregon, experienced G-induced loss of consciousness, or GLOC, during basic flight maneuver training on March 21, 2019. The incident, first reported by Popular Science, put the aircraft into an extraneous G-pull, which added stress on the aircraft. The documents state that the aircraft sustained "12.4 G recovery," resulting in damage to the airframe and structure. The pilot was not injured, Popular Science said.
  • On April 2, 2019, a CV-22B from the 352nd Special Operations Wing, RAF Mildenhall, United Kingdom, was struck by lightning while flying in Belgium; the strike damaged one of the aircraft's tilt-rotor blades, but it was able to land safely. No injuries were reported.
  • April 10, 2019, saw two back-to-back F-22 mishaps. During flight, one F-22 from the 3rd Wing in Alaska experienced an engine stall, causing it to shut down. The fifth-generation jet was able to return to base, with no injuries reported. Then, an F-22 from the 1st Fighter Wing at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, experienced engine damage after it "ingested material" in-flight; no injuries were reported. It was not specified where either mishap occurred.
  • An MQ-9 Reaper from the 432nd Wing at Creech lost its satellite link connection with its operating aircrew on April 10, 2019; it crashed in Afghanistan and was destroyed.
  • A T-6 Texan II trainer from the 80th Flying Training Wing, Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas, crashed near the base on May 1, 2019. Both the pilot and co-pilot were able to eject. The Air Force Safety Center recorded the event as zero injuries sustained. The aircraft was destroyed.
  • An F-35 of the 56th Fighter Wing, Luke Air Force Base, undergoing a "maintenance run" experienced engine FOD on the ground on May 9, 2019. No injuries were reported.
  • An F-16CM fighter jet belonging to the Air National Guard's 114th Fighter Wing out of Joe Foss Field, South Dakota, crashed while on final approach into March Air Reserve Base in California on May 16, 2019. The jet was landing following a routine training mission. The pilot safely ejected and sustained minor injuries; the F-16 was destroyed.
  • An F-22 from Alaska's 3rd Wing experienced severe engine vibration, causing it to shut down in flight on June 14, 2019. The pilot was able to return to a base within the U.S.; no injuries were reported.
  • A C-17 of the 437th Airlift Wing, Joint Base Charleston, conducted a "semi-prepared stressed turnaround" on the ground for a mission within the U.S. on June 27, 2019; during the movement, the cargo aircraft experienced FOD within three of its four turbofan engines. No injuries were reported.
  • An engine of an F-15 belonging to the 18th Wing at Kadena Air Base, Japan, got stuck in military power mode, a setting of maximum thrust without the use of afterburners, on July 31, 2019. The setting caused a subsequent engine fire and shutdown, with the pilot flying an emergency squawk back to a base within the U.S. No injuries were reported.
  • Also on July 31, 2019, an F-35 from the 388th Fighter Wing at Hill undergoing its 100th-hour inspection was found to have engine damage to its blades. No injuries were reported.
  • An F-22 from the 325th Fighter Wing, Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, on Aug. 13, 2019 sustained foreign object debris in its second engine, which was found during a post-flight inspection.
  • Also on Aug. 13, an MQ-9, belonging to Creech experienced an engine malfunction and was forced to land, sustaining damage to its sensor pods. Officials did not disclose the location of the forced landing.
  • On Aug. 22, 2019, the Air Force Research Lab lost an unmanned Cessna aircraft. "Most likely, this was the Cessna 206 that was supporting the ROBOPilot Unmanned Air Platform that was damaged during an experimental flight mishap on Dugway Proving Ground, Utah," said Bryan S. Ripple, spokesman at Air Force Materiel Command. Days earlier, officials touted the system on the general aviation single-engine plane, which replicates the same controls as a human pilot. The aircraft bounced upon landing and was destroyed. No injuries were reported.
  • Air Force Staff Sgt. Adam Erickson died during a parachute training accident during off-station training on Sept. 10, 2019. The jump was being conducted by the the 412th Test Wing, Edwards Air Force Base in California. The incident involved a manned aircraft.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @oriana0214.

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