Pilot errors led to the Feb. 20 mid-air collision of two F-15C Eagles over the Gulf of Mexico and the death of one of the pilots, an Air Force accident investigation board concluded in a report issued Monday.
To view computer simulations of the mid-air collision refer to the 2 links under Topical Links.
Lost in the accident was 1st Lt. Ali Jivanjee, 26, of the 58th Fighter Squadron, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. The other pilot, Capt. Tucker Hamilton of the 58th, safely ejected and was rescued from the gulf. He returned to flying within weeks of the accident. Today he is assigned as an air liaison officer working with the Army.
The two pilots were involved in a mock dog fight about 50 miles off Florida’s northwest coast when they collided, said investigation board president Brig. Gen. Joseph Reynes, an F-16 pilot currently assigned as Air Combat Command’s inspector general.
Rules for the engagement required the pilots to stay at least 1,000 feet from each other, Reynes said. But as they maneuvered for the best position, Hamilton failed to recognize that Jivanjee was on a collision course with his jet. Jivanjee lost sight of Hamilton’s jet for two seconds when his view of jet was blocked by a metal canopy support. When Jivanjee likely spotted Hamilton again, the jets were just two seconds from flying into each other at an altitude of 14,000 feet. The impact killed the lieutenant instantly.
The F-15C fleet was grounded from Nov. 2, 2007 to Jan. 10, 2008, following an Air National Guard mishap over Missouri.
The board ruled that the grounding — and the loss of flying time for Hamilton and Jivanjee that it caused — did not officially contribute to the accident.
But the report acknowledged they might have lost proficiency due to the grounding. “While the [pilots] had regained their currency and qualifications,” the report said, “it is questionable whether they had regained the proficiency held before the stand down of all F-15Cs.”
At the time of the crash, Hamilton was not certified as an instructor pilot, but he was qualified to lead the mission, Reynes said. Hamilton had logged 484 hours in F-15s and was approved as a four-ship flight lead. In 2007, he was the 58th’s company grade officer of the year.
Jivanjee was a new F-15 pilot with just 119 hours in Eagle cockpits but considered an “above average” pilot for an aviator with less than one year of operational flying.
Both pilots had spent most of November and December on the ground as they waited for Air Force leaders to decide if Eagles were safe to fly after a cracked fuselage beam led to the mid-air breakup of an F-15C on Nov. 2.
After the jets were cleared to fly starting Jan. 10, the pilots resumed flight training. In the 30 days prior to the accident, the officers flew more sorties than required by the Air Force’s “ready aircrew program,” the report said.
But the board acknowledged the pilots had not reached the skill level they had prior to the grounding. Their squadron commander, Lt. Col. Todd Jaax, told investigators that the unit’s pilots had lost proficiency and were more apt to make mistakes.
Jivanjee made such a mistake the day before the fatal mission while practicing fighter maneuvers. He flew his F-15C within 300 feet of another Eagle, a violation of training rules, the report said. While the first lieutenant discussed the lapse with his instructor for that mission, the violation was not serious enough to be briefed to Hamilton or the squadron’s leadership.
Reynes said Jivanjee’s mistake was the first serious error noted by the lieutenant’s commanders since he arrived at the 58th. “It was the only time we could find in his training that he had a close pass,” Reynes said.
As part of its investigation, the Air Force created computer animations showing what each pilot may have seen in the 50 seconds leading up to the accident, based on information from the jets’ flight data recorders. The videos also show each jet’s altitude, speed, angle of attack and G-force on the plane. The information for Hamilton’s plane is displayed as AXLE-41, his flight call sign. Jivanjee’s data is shown as AXLE-42.