For tonight's trip into the Wayback Machine, we're going to look at the 1982 Thunderbirds crash.
To start with, we have to look at September 8, 1981. The Team had just completed a performance at Burke Lakefront Airport, in Cleveland, and were
departing for Nellis AFB, NV and home. At the time the Team flew T-38 Talon aircraft, and the Crew Chief flew in the back seat on routine transit
On this day, with a huge crowd watching, both at the airport and in office buildings nearby, Team Commander Lt. Col. David Smith, and his Crew Chief,
Staff Sergeant Dwight Roberts departed the airport in Thunderbird #1. Upon takeoff, the aircraft impacted a flock of seagulls, losing power and
catching fire. Both Col. Smith, and SSGT Roberts were able to eject from the aircraft, but Col. Smith's chute didn't have time to open before he
impacted the rocks, and went into the lake. He was killed instantly. This accident ended the 1981 season (which was approaching the end anyway) for
After the 1981 crash, Major Normal Lowry, who had been selected already to lead the Team, stepped into the role of Commander. The Team then began
practice for the 1982 season.
On January 18, 1982 the Team was practicing for the Davis-Monthan Air Show, at the Indian Springs Air Force Auxiliary Field (this is important later).
The Diamond (aircraft 1-4) were performing the Line Abreast Loop, where the four aircraft go into a slow loop, side by side, then drop down the back
side of the loop at 400 mph, pulling out approximately 100 feet above the ground. At some point during the loop, Thunderbird #1 apparently suffered a
mechanical failure. All four aircraft struck the ground so close to simultaneously that no one could tell which aircraft hit first. All four pilots
were killed instantly in the impact.
There were several eyewitness accounts, and Tech Sergeant Alfred King was videotaping the practice for later review. He taped the aircraft to impact
with the ground.
Thanks to the video tape, it was determined that the likely cause was a jammed stabilizer on Thunderbird #1. As per their training, the other three
pilots never looked away from the lead aircraft.
After the crash, Major General Gerald Larson lead the investigation into the cause of the crash. Thanks to the video tape, the Board determined the
likely cause to be a jammed stabilizer on Thunderbird #1. The other three pilots never looked away from the lead aircraft, and flew into the ground
After the completion of the investigation, General Wilbur Creech, who had control of all copies of the video tape of the crash, without input or
direction from the Judge Advocate Generals office ordered all copies of the tape either destroyed, or partially erased. He stated that two copies of
the tape were completely destroyed, and he personally, erased the last few seconds of the master copy of the tape, that showed the fireball.
GAO report on the video tape
The Thunderbirds cancelled the entire 1982 season, and started the transition from the T-38 Talon, to the current F-16 Falcon. Several former
Thunderbird pilots were called back to the Team, and certified in the F-16. They began by flying 2 ship formations through all the maneuvers,
eventually leading up to all six aircraft being involved.
Their first performance in the F-16 was the start of the 1983 season, and they have flown them since. In 2005, Indian Springs Air Force Auxiliary
Field was renamed Creech Air Force Base in honor of General Wilbur Creech.
edit on 5/10/2014 by Zaphod58 because: (no reason given)