The wreckage of Thunderbird #8, a Block 52 F-16D that served as the advance jet for the team, was hauled away before the Dayton International Air Show opened its gates on Saturday. Video of the jet atop a flatbed trailer shows just how bad the damage to the aircraft is. The entire front cockpit section has been detached and half the tail surface has been sheered off among other damage.
Details remain somewhat limited about what caused the crash, but we do know that shortly after touching down in a squall that hit Dayton International Airport, the F-16D piloted by first year team member and former A-10 pilot Captain Erik Gonsalves, with team crew chief Staff Seargent Kenneth Cordova in the back, flipped completely upside down, pinning both in aircraft's cockpit. It took hours to remove the men, with fire crews having to saw into the jet to get them out.
Thankfully both men made it out alive, and Cordova has already been released from the hospital, although Gonsalves was still being cared for as of yesterday. The Thunderbirds display at the air show was subsequently cancelled.
Although nobody was hurt, the USAF lost two of its most capable F-16s last week, both Block 52 variants, one belonging to the Thunderbirds and the other belonging to the 125th Fighter Squadron, an Air National Guard unit out of Tulsa, Oklahoma. That jet crashed at Ellington Field, in Texas during takeoff. The pilot ejected safely and the armed jet skidded off the runway. The F-16 was in Houston as part of a NORAD air sovereignty alert detachment. Seeing as a large portion of America's F-16 inventory is now slated to serve well into the middle part of the century, continuous losses of the cream of the Viper fleet are troubling to say the least.
Overall, the week was a terrible one for USAF equipment, as it also included the loss of a RQ-4 Global Hawk and two of the USAF's prized E-4B National Airborne Operations Center aircraft were damaged in a tornado that touched down at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska.
The rest of the Dayton International Air Show, which included a Super Hornet demo and a heritage flight with the USAF's newest jet, the F-35A, went off without issue. We will stay on the story and let you know more about the cause of the crash as the investigation unfolds.
Contact the author: Tyler@thedrive.com