Almost a year after an F-22 Raptor fighter jet crashed on the base’s range, an Air Force Accident Investigation Board report still is not ready for public release.
The F-22 Raptor, part of the 325th Fighter Wing, was on a routine training mission with the 33rd Fighter Wing when it crashed about 9:15 a.m. May 15, 2020, in a closed area of the Eglin Air Force Base reservation about 12 miles northeast of the main section of the sprawling base.
The pilot safely ejected from the jet and was subsequently treated at the Eglin hospital. The pilot’s name has not been released, as is common in military jet crashes when no fatalities are involved.
Raptors from the 325th Fighter Wing, based at nearby Tyndall Air Force Base, were relocated to Eglin as Hurricane Michael bore down on the base near Panama City in October 2018, laying waste to the facility.
“Unfortunately, there’s not much (information) we can share with you at this time,” Leah Garton, chief of media operations for the Air Force’s Air Combat Command, said in a Tuesday email to the Daily News.
The Air Combat Command, headquartered at Virginia’s Joint Base Langley-Eustis, is taking the lead in the investigation, according to Garton. The Air Combat Command is the primary provider of air combat forces for the Air Force.
“The Accident Investigation Board (AIB) report for the F-22 mishap that occurred May 15, 2020, … has not yet been finalized for public release,” Garton also said in her email, which also promised to provide additional information as it becomes available and notification of any release of the AIB report. Those reports routinely are released upon completion on the website of the Air Force Judge Advocate General.
It is not unusual for AIB reports to take months, or even years, to complete. For example, the AIB report on a May 19, 2020, crash at Eglin of an F-35 fighter jet on a base runway was not released until Sept. 30 of last year. As with the F-22 crash, the pilot safely ejected.
Investigators determined that a number of factors contributed to that crash, including the pilot’s too-shallow approach to the runway, which induced bouncing that the aircraft’s flight systems could not overcome. Issues with the pilot’s helmet display and his experience in an F-35 simulator that did not match the actual aircraft’s performance also were contributing factors, according to the AIB report on that crash.
In addition to the Accident Investigation Board, whose members are appointed separately for each crash, Air Force crash investigations include a Safety Investigation Board, typically comprising six to 10 officers and senior enlisted personnel headed by a colonel. The safety investigation board’s work is focused on preventing future mishaps, and its report is not subject to public release.
Accident investigation boards, headed by a senior pilot and another pilot along with a maintenance expert, flight surgeon, judge advocate and any other needed specialists, are convened to determine the cause of a crash or other serious mishap.
The May 15, 2020, F-22 crash was the first of two incidents within the past 12 months involving a Raptor from the 325th Fighter Squadron at Eglin. On the afternoon of March 15 this year, an F-22 experiencing what the Air Force reported as an “in-flight emergency” wound up on an Eglin runway with an apparently collapsed nose gear. The pilot suffered minor injuries and received hospital treatment. An investigation into that incident also is ongoing.
According to recent data from the Air Force Safety Center, the two 2020 crashes at Eglin were among 23 “Class A” Air Force mishaps in the 2020 fiscal year, which ran from Oct. 1, 2019, to Sept. 30, 2020. Class A mishaps are incidents in which aircraft are destroyed or sustain more than $2.5 million in damage, or where a person is killed or permanently and fully disabled.
The 23 Class A mishaps recorded in fiscal 2020 are among the highest number of such mishaps to be reported in recent years, eclipsed only by the 2018 fiscal year, in which 27 Class A mishaps were recorded.
The 2018 total of Class A mishaps represented 1.58 incidents for every 100,000 Air Force flight hours, while the 2020 mishaps represented 1.47 incidents for every 100,000 flight hours, according to the March report from the Air Force Safety Center.
Additionally, according to the Air Force Safety Center report, the F-35 and the F-22 destroyed in the Eglin incidents in fiscal 2020 were among the 14 aircraft the Air Force lost during that period in Class A mishaps.
In connection with another 2020 military aircraft crash with local connections, the Navy also has yet to release its Safety Investigation Report on the Oct. 23 crash of a T-6B Texan II turboprop training aircraft from Naval Air Station Whiting Field in Milton.
On the early evening of Oct. 23, the plane crashed in a residential area of Magnolia Springs, Alabama, a small town abut 50 miles southwest of Whiting Field. The crash claimed the lives of 24-year-old Coast Guard Ensign Morgan Garrett, a student aviator from Weddington, North Carolina, and 30-year-old Navy Lt. Rhiannon Ross, a flight instructor from Wixom, Michigan.
A spokeswoman for the Naval Safety Center told the Daily News recently that releasable information on the crash investigation could be available by late July.
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