USAF F-15 in-flight breakup animation

Text from Recreating the Eagle’s final moments
By Graham Warwick

Using eyewitness reports, HUD camera video, debris analysis and the pilot’s own testimony, Boeing’s Phantom Works research organisation has recreated the break-up of the US Air National Guard F-15C in the skies of Missouri on 2 November.

“This is as close as science can get us to what actually happened,” says Gen John Corley, commander of US Air Force Air Combat Command, commenting on the computer-generated animation. “We are lucky the pilot is still alive.”

The animation, which is slowed to one-fifth the speed of the actual event, shows the in-flight break-up of the F-15 from five different views. Each segment runs from the initial nose shimmy as the longeron fails to the pilot’s ejection from the tumbling cockpit – a sequence of events that lasted mere seconds in the real event.

When the upper right longeron breaks, the other three longerons cannot carry the load and the forward fuselage structure begins to fail. As the cockpit separates from the rest of the aircraft, it “wins the tug of war” and takes the canopy with it.

The pilot is thrown forward as the separated cockpit slows from 450kt with an “eyeballs out” force of 4-10G. At this point, disoriented by the brutal deceleration, he is still unaware his aircraft has broken in two.

As the cockpit tumbles, windblast rips off the canopy, the transparency fragmenting. The departing canopy rail strikes and shatters the pilot’s upper left arm. “There are paint marks on his flight suit,” says Corley.

Unable to initiate a two-handed ejection, but not knowing why his left arm will not respond, the pilot ejects using his right hand. Although almost inverted when he ejects, the Aces II seat “works as advertised”.

Now “headless”, its landing gear deployed by gravity after the departing cockpit pulled the cables releasing the uplocks, the stricken F-15 enters its final moments. The two sections of the aircraft came down a quarter to half a mile apart.


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