Aircraft, like other products, experience problems at the beginning and end of service life that are higher than in mainstream service. These higher beginning and ending failure rates are so well-recognized as to often be described as "bathtub curves", so named for the shape the statistical failure rate curve takes. Air Force F-16 crash data are reflected in the Data Development Technical Support Document for the Aircraft Crash Risk Analysis Methodology (ACRAM) Standard. The ACRAM data are based on four phases of flight: (1) takeoff; (2) landing; (3) normal flight; and (4) special operations. The Air Force mishap data did not separate the mishaps into the four phases of flight and the ACRAM report did not divide the data into Class A and Class B type occurrences. On this premise, and including all years through 2003, the value for the F-16 crash rate is 4.10 x 10-8 per mile. But the Air Force records overall crash data in terms of crashes per hour of flight.
An F-16C assigned to the 160th Fighter Squadron, 187th Fighter Wing, AL ANG, Montgomery ANGB, Montgomery, AL, was destroyed upon impact 1,300 feet short of the runway at the Bobby L. Chain Municipal Airport, Hattiesburg, MS, on September 11, 2002 during a basic surface attack training sortie. The pilot ejected safely and received minor injuries. Air Force investigators later determined engine failure to have caused the crash, specifically the failure of the high pressure turbine post, allowing the HPT blades to break free and damage the engine.
An F-16 Fighting Falcon jet assigned to the 310th Fighter Squadron at Luke AFB, AZ, crashed at about 5:15 pm, on June 10, 2003, on the Barry M. Goldwater Range approximately 15 miles south of Gila Bend. The aircraft was carrying training ordnance. The pilot safely ejected from the aircraft while on an air-to-ground training mission.
A USAF F-16CG fighter aircraft crashed at approximately 6:30 a.m. local time on June 12, 2003, southwest of Baghdad. The aircraft was flying from a forward-deployed air base in Southwest Asia supporting operations in Iraq. The pilot ejected safely from the single-seat aircraft and was later rescued.
There were 122 F-16 Class A mishap accidents for the period from FY 89 to FY 98. These accidents consisted of mishaps involving destroyed aircraft. A total of 272 F-16 aircraft had been destroyed from the introduction of the F-16 in 1975 to 2003. F-16 manufacturer Lockheed Martin determined that half of Class A F-16 accidents were caused by pilot error.
As the F-16 approaches the end of its service life, it may well demonstrate the high crash rate characteristic of end of life performance. The "bathtub effect" may occur over the life of some products. But as of 2003 the crash data for the F-16 were not yet showing it. To be sure, when the F-16 was first put into service, it experienced a crash rate higher than later in its lifetime. But as of 2003 there had been no perceptible upturn in crash rate as end of life approaches. Accident rates appeared to have been level over time since the mid-1980s. This occurrence was attributed to improvements in pilot training, technology, and maintenance practices and procedures over the life of the aircraft. Indeed, Air Force data indicate that aggregate crash rates for all planes have steadily decreased over time.
In fact, careful examination of F-16 crash rates, in particular that of the F-16A which was the first of the F-16 models to be retired from service, as well as the crash rates of other recently retired fighter aircraft at the ends of their service lives, showed no end-of-life bathtub effect. The crash rates have remained the same near end of life or decreased with time. Particularly instructive is the end of life crash rate for the F-16A. The F-16A was the first model of the F-16. Most of them had been retired by 2003, and over the previous five years, the five-year and ten-year average accident rates for the F-16A remained flat. Thus, the F-16A did not exhibit a bathtub effect and there was no reason to believe that other models of the F-16 will exhibit a bathtub effect.
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