Wrong trim setting caused fatal F-16 crash during TLP

The cause of the dramatic Greek F-16 crash in Albacete, Spain, on January 26 was the result of an incorrect trim setting that went unnoticed, an accident investigation board has concluded. Eleven people lost their lives that day. The board’s findings were made public by the French Ministry of Defense on Monday 27 July. Most of the fatalities in the accident were French.

According to the board, the yaw trim was inadvertently set to maximum right deflection, drastically affecting the aerodynamics of the aircraft during takeoff. After the pilot of the two seat F-16D completed his before take off check list 20 minutes prior  to the aircraft’s actual departure, the incorrect setting went unnoticed. In the time between the check and the actual take off, the knob for the trim setting may have accidentally been hit by something in the cockpit.

As the aircraft rotated, the incorrect setting caused the F-16 to turn right, heading for a platform were other aircraft were preparing for their mission. Data showed pilot tried to correct the unwanted turn by steering left, but the control inputs were insufficient to counter the right roll. The crashing F-16 hit several French Air Force aircraft as it came down, writing off a Mirage 2000D, two Alpha Jets and an Italian AMX. Several more aircraft sustained damage. Pics of the aftermath are here. The two pilots crewing the F-16 ejected, but fatally hit the ground.

Nine more people died in the crash at Albacete airbase in Spain. All were French personnel on the ground. Another 29 military personnel were wounded. The Greek F-16 was part of large formation of aircraft taking part in the Tactical Leadership Program (TLP) exercise.

The investigation board found that the manual trim panel in the F-16’s cockpit  does not prevent all inadvertent movement of the setting. In this case, a check list used by the pilot is likely to have hit the panel without the pilot noticing it. The cockpit is also not equipped with a warning system for aircraft “mistrimming” prior to take off.

Other critical factors leading to the crash were the aircraft  heavy gross weight, asymmetric configuration and a cross wind.

© 2015 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest
Featured image: A Hellenic Air Force F-16 up close (Image © Elmer van Hest)