Remember that runway overrun by an F-16C at Oshkosh last summer (see it on video here)? Plenty of armchair pilots speculated about why it might have happened, with possible causes centering on what many presumed was a brake problem or perhaps too high an airspeed on final. It turns out that not a single one of us was right. An Air Force investigation made public this week revealed that a severely fogged-over canopy, caused by the failure of the F-16’s environmental control system, was to blame for the July 2011 mishap.
Investigators said “extreme fogging” in the cockpit led to the fighter overrunning Runway 36 at Wittman Regional Airport by 300 feet, causing more than $5 million in damage to the F-16. The Air Combat Command Accident Investigation Board in Hampton, Virginia, said the pilot’s visual cues were completely obscured by fogging from the faulty ECS as he approached to land on the 8,000-foot runway. The board also noted that the pilot briefly considered ejecting but feared for the safety of EAA AirVenture spectators nearby.
The F-16 pilot, assigned to the 100th Fighter Squadron, 187th Fighter Wing at Dannelly Field, Alabama, was unhurt in the incident, but the jet sustained major damage when its nose gear collapsed and the engine ingested significant mud and debris. Nobody on the ground was injured in the overrun, which was caught on camera by several AirVenture attendees. Investigators noted that if not for the lack of outside visual references, the pilot could have come to a stop on the runway with about 1,000 feet to spare.