DuBois checked on wingman 6 seconds before crash
Read the Air Force Aircraft Accident Investigation Board report.
On his last mission as an F-16 pilot, Will DuBois’ concern for others showed.
The 2003 Rifle High graduate, a highly regarded combat pilot described by the Air Force as a “natural leader (who) always took great care to mentor the pilots in his flight,” was leading a two-plane mission to attack Islamic State extremists before dawn on Dec. 1.
It would end tragically, with DuBois dying when his fighter jet crashed.
Leaving in extreme darkness from a classified base reported by CNN to have been in Jordan, DuBois’ $30 million F-16 was armed with four 500-pound bombs and four air-to-air missiles. The Air Force report on the incident, released this week, said it was DuBois’ 19th mission against ISIS since being deployed in October from Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina.
After takeoff, the wingman on the flight couldn’t raise his landing gear because a door didn’t fully close, requiring the pilots to return to base.
The plan was to change planes and resume the mission, but first, they had to burn off fuel to lighten their jets for landing.
Circling the base before 5 a.m. local time and using their afterburners to use fuel faster, DuBois “expressed concern to the (wingman) that due to the predawn hour, the (flight) was likely waking up (base) inhabitants.” He gained permission for the pair to move about 20 miles from the base, where they continued to burn fuel for about 10 minutes, the report said.
The accident report describes the procedure for landing the planes using an instrument approach. The remote base was in an area with “minimal cultural lighting and nearly absent of visual clues at night … no discernible horizon was visible to the unaided eye at approach altitudes.”
DuBois, a captain and flight commander who advanced rapidly to leadership roles and was in line to attend the prestigious Air Force Weapons School, normally led flights, but protocol called for him to tail the troubled plane. He obtained a radar lock on the wingman’s jet and they began a short descent.
The report said DuBois decided to “begin the landing approach at 3,500 feet (mean sea level)” — less than 2,000 feet above the ground and below the Air Force’s minimum altitude for the sector. That left him only 32 seconds to stay aloft after “being established on a segment of the instrument approach” at 3,000 feet, the report said.
What happened next, the Air Force said, involved the “elevator illusion.”
“Since the vestibular system registers accelerations, it would stop providing inputs once a relatively steady descent was reached,” the report explained. “Any attempt to decrease or arrest the steady descent would cause the body to sense a pitch up/climb. If the pilot does not monitor attitude, altitude, and VVI during this critical time, the vestibular illusion can cause him to put the aircraft back into a descent.” Only precise monitoring of instruments enable the pilot to overide this physical sensation.
In DuBois’ case, he “did not attempt to stop the descent until an abrupt pull away from the ground during the last second of flight, which was insufficient to avoid impact.”
As he approached the base, as he had done on five previous missions, DuBois checked with his wingman 6 secs before crash “asking if he was receiving the glideslope. (DuBois) misprioritized navigation and supervising his wingman to the exclusion of altitude in his instrument scan,” the report said. This focus on others was common; the report had noted earlier DuBois’ extra effort to help his wingmen.
With his landing gear down, the F-16’s audio warnings about altitude were disabled.
“During the last second of flight, (DuBois) initiated a 4G level pull away from the ground. However, this action was executed too late to avoid impact,” the report said.
The wingman landed normally.
Shortly after, the wingman, “control tower and operations supervisor made several radio calls on interflight, tower and guard frequencies in an attempt to contact (DuBois), but received no replies.”
DuBois had crashed 9.5 miles short of the runway.
The nation had lost a leader who comes along “once in a generation,” Col. Paul Murray, 20th Operations Group commander at Shaw AFB, told mourners at DuBois’ memorial service at Rifle High in December.
THE MEMORIAL AT RIFLE HIGH
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