AC-130J Ghostrider Damaged in Flight Test

$115 million heavy airplane damaged beyond repair.

AC-130J Ghostrider

AC-130J Ghostrider

U.S. Air Force

The Air Force Materiel Command has publicly admitted to a mishap in which an Air Force test pilot crew got the ride of their life in April of this year. An AC-130J Ghostrider, an airplane weighing as much as 164,000 pounds, went inverted during a test flight and was severely damaged, a mistake that is costing taxpayers $115 million.

The Ghostrider belonged to the 413 Flight Test Squadron at the Eglin Air Force Base in northwest Florida. According to information released by the Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, the Ghostrider crew was conducting steady heading sideslip maneuvers at 15,000 feet over the Gulf of Mexico, about 400 miles south of Eglin Air Force Base. The airplane "exceeded the targeted angle of sideslip" and the crew lost control of the airplane, which momentarily went inverted. The Ghostrider lost about 5,000 feet before the crew recovered control.

The report said the airplane was exposed to excessive g forces and exceeded its design limit load. It has since been deemed a total loss.

The president of the Accident Investigation Board said the cause of the accident was "excessive rudder input during the test point followed by inadequate rudder input to initiate a timely recovery from high angle of sideslip due to overcontrolled/undercontrolled aircraft and wrong choice of action during an operation."

Contributing factors were instrumentation and warning system issues, spatial disorientation, confusion, and inadequate provision of procedural guidance or publications to the team, the board president said.