On March 14, 2008, the F-16 community lost a great pilot, leader, and brother. 2LT David “Jinxx” Mitchell was killed during a training mission over the Arizona desert, leaving behind his wife Kristi and his unborn son Brayden. It was a dark day for class 08-CBC, the 62nd Fighter Squadron, and Luke Air Force Base.
Jinxx wasn’t just a classmate to me. He was my best friend in the class. We were both “Guard Guys” – students who had been hired “off the street” by Air Reserve Component units. He was on his way to Toledo to fly with the 180th, and I the Makos in Homestead. As the only two Guard/Reserve bubbas, we were outside of the competition and worry for assignments and class rankings. Our jobs were just to learn how to be the best F-16 wingmen we could be. It was a great thing to have in common.
I’ll never forget that Friday. We had only been “named” for a week. The Friday before, the 62nd “Spikes” had given us our “God-given fighter pilot callsigns.” We were proud to finally be wearing those callsigns on our Friday nametags.
We were all in the Basic Fighter Maneuvers phase of the course – it was the first time we were experiencing the high G-forces of the F-16 doing dogfighting. I wasn’t flying that day, but Jinxx and I had spent the afternoon prior working on BFM setups and techniques in the simulator. Jinxx was flying with the Squadron Commander on a High Aspect BFM flight, and he wanted to make a good impression. We spent hours trying to take the stuff we’d learned from academics and apply it in the simulator against each other under 1 G until we were both comfortable with it. When we finished, I wished Jinxx good luck on his ride the next day, not knowing it would be the last time I’d ever talk to him.
Friday morning, I was on SNACKO duty with another classmate. We had taken the squadron golf cart to the commissary on base to get supplies for the bar and were on the way back when I got the phone call.
“Get back to the squadron now. Don’t talk to anyone. Don’t ask questions,” was the directive from our Senior Ranking Officer. Neither of us had any idea what to expect, but we knew it wasn’t good. We both naively thought the class was in trouble for something. I would later wish that to be true instead of the reality staring us in the face.
Those of us not flying were all grouped into the squadron bar and told not to say anything to anyone. Something had happened, but no one was giving us any details. As the remaining pilots in our class came back from flights visibly shaken, we started to piece it together. Jinxx had gone down.
We all held out hope. Instructors were out doing search and rescue while we sat in the bar. We couldn’t call anyone – it’s standard procedure to put the squadron on lockdown pending next of kin notification. It’s a good policy. It’s much better for a family member to find out through official channels than to use the rumor mill to put two and two together.
There were conflicting reports of whether Jinxx had gotten out. No one had seen a chute, but we all hoped he was sitting on a rock in the desert somewhere waiting to be picked up. As the hours ticked by, we knew it wasn’t good. Finally late that evening, they notified his pregnant wife Kristi. We were all still in shock.
The investigation that followed was thorough. After a few months, the Accident Investigation Board’s report was released:
The mishap occurred during an F-16 BFM training mission involving simulated air-to-air combat “dogfights” between the MIP and the MP. The MIP was the 62nd Fighter Squadron Commander. The profile for the mission subjected the pilots to high levels of sustained gravitational forces (G forces, or Gs) of up to 9Gs, often at high G-onset rates (greater than 6 Gs per second). Thirty-seven minutes into the mission, during a planned high speed turning maneuver characterized by G forces of over 8 Gs, the MA stopped maneuvering, and began a descending flight path consistent with the aircraft no longer being controlled by the pilot. The MA impacted the ground approximately 14 seconds later at a speed of greater than 600 knots. There was no attempt by the pilot to eject.
In the causal factors analysis, the report further stated that “…the G-LOC was caused by the MP’s failure to perform an effective Anti-G Straining Maneuver (AGSM).” While factually correct, I don’t think that does the story justice. We will never know what went on in that cockpit, but I think the real story is that Jinxx was doing what he always did – giving 100% to be the best fighter pilot he could be.
He was fighting the squadron commander in a High Aspect (Neutral) BFM engagement and giving everything he had. At thirty-seven minutes into the mission, he was on his third or fourth set. BFM in a 9-G fighter is a physically demanding and exhausting endeavor. It requires a pilot to be on top of his or her AGSM at all times while under G. You’re tightening muscles and focusing on breathing – even the slightest relaxing can lead to vision loss or unconsciousness. Jinxx was still fighting to the bell, but unfortunately I think just the slightest slip up turned deadly. It could have easily happened to anyone–even the most experienced pilots.
It’s hard to believe it has been seven years already. A lot of good lessons learned came out of this mishap. Some have already been pushed out through appropriate Safety channels, but it also serves as an important reminder that while we must always push ourselves to the limit during training, we must also know when we’re nearing that limit and back off.
No peacetime training sortie is so important that we should exceed our own limits. Even with the new Advanced Technology Anti-G Suit that has come out in recent years, we can never afford to become complacent. The line we walk in training can often be razor thin.
So, here’s a nickel on the grass to you, Jinxx. You were a good friend and wingman. The world is a lesser place without you. ~Mover