According to the results of an Air Force investigation into the crash of an A-29 Super Tucano on a New Mexican bombing range last June, the pilot of the aircraft caused the crash by attempting too sharp a turn at too low an airspeed immediately after deploying heavy ordnance over the range.
Navy Lt. Christopher Short, a pilot with 1,000 hours of F/A-18 flight time, died after his Super Tucano entered into an un-recoverable dive over the Red Rio Bombing Range on June 22, 2018. The flight was a part of the Air Force’s Light Attack Aircraft experiment, meant to find low cost aircraft that could fly combat operations in permissible environments like those often found in places like Afghanistan.
Short and his weapons systems officer were meant to drop 500-pound GBU-12 Paveway II bombs, launch rockets, and fire the aircraft’s 50 caliber gun at different targets on the bombing range but ran into trouble after deploying the first GBU-12 from the aircraft’s left outboard pylon. Immediately after releasing the bomb, Short attempted a hard 180 degree right turn. The Aircraft’s right wing, which still held a 500 pound bomb, was significantly heavier than the left after the drop.
“[Short exacerbated the [mishap aircraft’s] right rolling tendency, caused by the GBU-12 release, by making the right aileron and rudder inputs while applying 1.47 positive g’s,” the report stated. “This resulted in a rapid roll to the right followed by an uncontrolled spiral dive.”
It is important to note that the report indicated that other pilots had successfully pulled off a similar maneuver in another light attack aircraft, the AT-6, participating in the experiment a bit more than week prior. According to that flight crew, the turn was “aggressive,” including more than 90 degrees of bank and pulling more than 4 G’s.
Short made four attempts at regaining control of the aircraft before the decision was made to eject. The weapons officer ejected approximately 5 seconds before the plane hit the ground and at an altitude of about 2,600 feet. He survived with only minor injuries. Short, however, did not pull his ejection handle until 3 to 3.5 seconds later — or only about 700 feet off the ground. The aircraft hit the ground before he cleared the cockpit, killing Short instantly. If the ejection seats had been set to “aft mode” rather than “single” mode, both aviators may have survived the incident.
The Air Force investigation found that Short’s “overcontrol” of the aircraft put it into the spin; they also cited his failure to “apply adequate recovery control inputs” during the dive as being responsible for the crash. Notably, Short had only 11 hours of flight time with the Tucano prior to his death, though officials described him as a well qualified and mature pilot.
“[Light Attack Experiment] Flight leadership and fellow aircrew described [Short] as ‘very professional in the aircraft’ and as a ‘wise soul, not prone to taking unnecessary risks,’ ” investigators wrote.
(U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Dillian Bamman)