14 September 2003

Captain Chris Stricklin ejects from his F-16C approximately 140 feet above the ground at Mountain Home AFB, 14 September 2003. (SSgt Bennie J. Davis III, U.S. Air Force)
Captain Chris Stricklin ejects from his F-16C approximately 140 feet (43 meters) above the ground at Mountain Home AFB, 14 September 2003. (Detail from photograph by SSgt Bennie J. Davis III, U.S. Air Force)
Captain Chris R. Stricklin, USAF
Captain Chris R. Stricklin, USAF

14 September 2003: During an air show at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, Captain Chris R. Stricklin, U.S. Air Force, a member of the Thunderbirds aerial demonstration squadron, was flying Thunderbird Six, a solo demonstration aircraft.

Thunderbird Six was a General Dynamics F-16C Block 32J Fighting Falcon single-seat, single-engine fighter, serial number 87-0327. Captain Stricklin was performing a “Split-S” maneuver in which the pilot starts in level flight, rolls to an inverted position and performs a descending half loop. This results in the aircraft returning to level flight, in the opposite direction, at a considerably lower altitude.

Diagram of Split-S maneuver.
Diagram of Split-S maneuver.

During his time with the Thunderbirds, Stricklin had performed this maneuver more than 200 times. This time, though, he mistakenly entered the Split-S at 1,670 feet (509 meters) above the ground when he should have been at 2,500 feet (762 meters). As he came closer to the ground he realized that he did not have enough altitude to pull out. He banked the F-16 so that it was heading away from the crowd of spectators, and when he was just 140 feet (43 meters) above the surface, he ejected from the fighter. It impacted the ground 0.8 seconds later and was completely destroyed. The F-16 was valued at $20.4 million.

Captain Stricklin descends by parachute as his F-16 leaves a trail of fire on the runway at Mountain Home AFB. (Still frame from YouTube video at https://youtu.be/ujXnhCfrjX8 )
Captain Stricklin descends by parachute as his F-16 leaves a trail of fire on the runway at Mountain Home AFB. (Still frame from video at https://youtu.be/ujXnhCfrjX8 )
F-16C Block 32J Fighting Falcon 87-0327, 422 TES landing at Nellis AFB 30 March 1989. (Takeshi Imagome via F-16.net)
F-16C Block 32J Fighting Falcon 87-0327, 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron, landing at Nellis AFB, Nevada, 30 March 1989. It is armed with an AGM-65 Maverick air-to-ground missile. (Takeshi Imagome via F-16.net)

The F-16 was designed to be a highly-maneuverable, light weight air superiority day fighter, but it has evolved into a multi-role fighter/fighter bomber with all weather attack capability. The F-16C is a single-seat, single-engine Mach 2+ fighter. It is 49 feet, 4 inches (15.037 meters) long with a wingspan of 31 feet, 0 inches (9.449 meters) and overall height of 16 feet, 8½ inches (5.093 meters). It has an empty weight of 18,238 pounds (8,272.6 kilograms), a loaded weight of 26,463 pounds (12,003.4 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 42,300 pounds (19,186.9 kilograms). The F-16C Block 32J is powered by one Pratt and Whitney F100-PW-220 afterburning turbofan engine which produces a maximum of 23,770 pounds of thrust. The Fighting Falcon has a maximum speed of Mach 1.2 at Sea Level, and Mach 2.02 at 40,000 feet (12,192 meters). The service ceiling is higher than 50,000 feet (15,240 meters).

The F-16C is armed with one General Electric M61A1 Vulcan 20 mm 6-barreled Gatling gun with 515 rounds of ammunition, and can carry a wide range of missiles and bombs, including the AIM-9 Sidewinder and AIM-120 AMRAAM air-to-air missiles, and AGM-45 Shrike and AGM-65 Maverick air-to-ground missiles..

Thunderbird Six, an F-16C, 87-0327, seen in February 2001. (F-16.net)
Thunderbird Six, F-16C 87-0327, photographed in February 2001. (F-16.net)

This accident ended Striklin’s assignment with the Thunderbirds. He was reassigned to staff duties at The Pentagon.

A 1994 graduate of the United States Air Force Academy, he went on to earn a Master of Aeronautical Science degree, and later a Master  of Military Operational Art and Science degree from the Air Command and Staff College. In 2010, Lieutenant Colonel Stricklin was assigned to command the 49th Fighter Training Squadron. He was promoted to the rank of Colonel in 2013. After assignments to NATO, in June 2015, Colonel Stricklin was assigned as Vice Commander, 9th Reconnaissance Wing, Beale Air Force Base, California.

Colonel Chris R. Stricklin, United States Air Force.
Colonel Chris R. Stricklin, United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photograph)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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