PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — Airmen from the 140th
Wing, Colorado Air National Guard removed the vertical tail from a fallen
Thunderbird F-16 aircraft March 14, in hopes of someday returning it to service.
The F-16 was transported to Peterson Air Force Base
after a Thunderbird flyover for the Air Force Academy graduation on June 2,
2016, during which, the pilot, Maj. Alex Turner, encountered a throttle
malfunction and successfully ejected from the jet, avoiding any loss of life or
damage to civilian property.
Senior Master Sgt. Timothy Buckner, equipment
maintenance flight superintendent, 140th Maintenance Squadron, said the 140th
Wing has an 18-person Crash Damage Disabled Aircraft Recovery team comprised of
members from various shops within the 140th Maintenance Group, to include the
structural, metals and phase inspection shops.
The CDDAR team specializes in the safe and effective
recovery of fallen aircraft following an in-flight emergency with little to no
notice, at any time of day or night.
This diverse combination of subject matter experts brings a broad set of
skills and knowledge to the team, explained Buckner.
The team’s mission is to salvage, repair and recover
the aircraft, with the intent to return it to duty, when and if possible.
All CDDAR personnel attend a crash recovery course
where they work through several scenarios to recover crashed or damaged
aircraft. In order to provide a more
realistic training environment that best prepares teams for real world
operations, trainees face scenarios involving a variety of different aircraft
Additionally, teams develop initial and annual CDDAR
training plans and establish local training programs to maintain their skills. Because
of this consistent level of readiness, the Air Force was able to rely on the
140th Wing’s CDDAR team when Thunderbird 6 crashed 90 miles south of Buckley
Air Force Base.
Colorado Guardsmen from Aurora, Colo. quickly answered
that call and joined forces with the Air Reserve Component, 302nd Airlift Wing
in Colorado Springs to retrieve the aircraft from the field and prepare it for
secure transport to Peterson Air Force Base.
Once safely on the base, the damaged jet undergoes
months of intense investigation and safety and maintenance checks by a team of
authorities known as a Safety Investigation Board.
Ten months later, the COANG returned to Peterson AFB
to assist in the final recovery stages of the aircraft, the removal of the tail
from the Thunderbird F-16.
Although the $29 million fighter jet was destroyed in
the crash, the vertical tail from the fallen aircraft also happens to be the
last F-16 Block 52 tail wing in Air Force inventory and will be a valuable
asset if it is deemed able to return to the fleet.
Master Sgt. Robert Baker, team chief for the recovery
event, 140th Maintenance Group, explained that to take off the vertical tail of
an F-16, a recovery team would typically need to remove the engine in order to
get underneath the tail.
However, due to the
condition of the fallen aircraft, this team is executing a unique process,
recommended by Air Force depot engineers, in which they will go in from above
instead of below, allowing them to maintain the structural integrity of the