This is the story, from the late 80s:


Why did he crash? Why would anyone crash in this scenario?

I'd like to ideally hear from someone who is either an F-16 pilot or has been lucky enough to be able to try flying the F-16. Even if this has been ruled a suicide I'm still curious what beyond landing are the main challenges with flying the F-16 for someone untrained.

As someone who will never get that chance myself but likes flight simulators, I'm curious exactly where the big difference from the simulation to reality lies. I'm quite certain many others who fly flight simulators are also curious what the difference actually is. What stops someone that knows what all of the functions of the controls are, and is intimately familiar with the startup procedure for the engine of the F-16 (like a mechanic), from actually flying an F-16? Yes, landing, but what else? Do you need to remember to change some engine settings, fuel settings, after taking off, otherwise the engine stalls? Can you easily exceed EGT, or otherwise damage the engine, if you don't know what you're doing? Do you need to change some settings for the battery, internal power? I'm just guessing blindly here.

Forgive me for the hand waving like arguments I'm using, but, how hard can it be to keep an F-16 in level flight, if you are able to climb to 2,000 feet in the first place?

For the particular cited story above, it seems strange that the mechanic was able to take off and climb to 2,000 feet, and only then crashed. Does this point strongly to suicide?

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    $\begingroup$ It's one thing to taxi an aircraft around and know what the controls theoretically do, its another thing entirely to get it into the air and control it. For example he knows how the engine works, but does he know what happens when you exceed a critical AoA? Go to slow and stall, does he know the recovery procedure? Pushing throttles forward and pulling back on the stick means take-off, after that its an entirely different game. It takes no time (or effort) for an F-16 to climb to 2000 feet. He was only airborne for 2 minutes, 5 seconds. $\endgroup$ – Ron Beyer Jun 5 at 14:20
  • $\begingroup$ F16 is 3 decades before airplanes are as easy to fly as video games. $\endgroup$ – user3528438 Jun 5 at 15:30
  • $\begingroup$ @RonBeyer Seems to me that 2 minutes 5 seconds is an EON when compared to how fast things happen in a fighter.... $\endgroup$ – CGCampbell Jun 5 at 19:28
  • $\begingroup$ Learning how to fly an aircraft isn't a trivial undertaking. You may be surprised to learn that simulation back in 1982 was nowhere near as good as it is now. taking off? Not that hard to do if you know how to use the rudder to stay pointed down the runway. Learning how to land? A bit trickier. We would not let them solo until the 14th flight when I was an instructor, and that's if they did well. Screw up a landing and it's easy to be dead. Learning how to fly ? For a FBW in 1982? Go and get some training on how it works. That crash was "you can't fix stupid" playing out in real life. $\endgroup$ – KorvinStarmast Jun 5 at 20:17
  • $\begingroup$ Even though it will probably pass, I disagree with the close vote. While we may not know the answer at this point, the question itself is specific and answerable. That the investigation is over and no one is known to be looking for the answer right now isn't reason enough to permanently shut the door on the question. $\endgroup$ – Therac Jun 6 at 4:20

Unauthorized flights of military jets by mechanics have happened in the past. Some of the aircraft landed successfully after the ordeal others resulted in fatal accidents. The two successful cases which I’m aware of, the mechanics had previous flight training. We still cannot determine whether this F-16 went down as a result of inability of the pilot to control the aircraft or whether it was an intentional suicide by airplane.

There is nothing outrageous or unusual about an F-16, save that it is a high performance fighter, with a high thrust to weight ratio, (relatively) high wing loading and low aspect ratio wings and handles accordingly. The sidestick controller combined with the fly by wire flight controls and nimble handling requires a light touch on the controls - some pilots describe it as almost a ‘kissing’ sensation - to properly fly, which possibly could get away from a neophyte. Like most high performance airplanes, it needs to be flown by the numbers and can be demanding to land, though not as difficult as some other military jets eg T-38, etc.

The physical act of flying seminal maneuvers is very easy in these jets with a little flying knowledge. Most fighter pilots describe their jets as easier to fly than say a Cessna. Flight control laws eliminate a lot of the babysitting and grunt work one has to do in an aircraft with conventional controls. The pilot has an unobstructed view from the canopy of the environments, offering very good situational awareness. All primary flight data is displayed prominently in the HUD and easy to decipher. More complex flying will start to become demanding and potentially lead to trouble.

Aviation has a lot of scenarios which seem benign but turn into death traps if you don’t fully understand what’s happening. There are plenty of sad tales such as stall spin accidents, low level aerobatics, etc. where people thought they could handle a situation but their reach quickly exceeded their grasp. This is compounded by untrained human psychological responses to stress and fear. Some of the lethal gotchas I’ve seen are inability to understand aerodynamic concepts like stall speed to load factor, density altitude, aircraft system interactions, emergency procedures, operation in adverse weather or IMC, jet engine thrust response time to throttle commands, etc. You also have the unusual quirks specific to each aircraft. The F-16, for instance, can enter a deep stalled condition lethal at low altitudes if not properly flown. These kinds of phenomena exist on other fighters with neutral or negative dynamic stability as well.

The exact cause of the accident in question is not totally clear, so anything specifics would be speculative. If someone can find the Norwegian AF accident investigation report on this, we can read it and see what their conclusions were.

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From the news story itself: an air force lieutenant colonel said

They know how to start the motors to check them and can maybe even taxi, but they don’t have a chance after takeoff ... fighter pilot training lasts more than two years and that it is madness for untrained personnel to try flying an F-16.

That suggests not suicide but sheer luck with the takeoff, which luck then ran out. Exactly how it ran out may be impossible to determine from what little evidence remained after the crash.

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  • $\begingroup$ "That suggests not suicide but sheer luck with the takeoff" It may have been sheer luck with the take-off, but that isn't to say that the whole exercise wasn't (intentional) suicide. $\endgroup$ – Ron Beyer Jun 5 at 14:34
  • $\begingroup$ Speaking beyond my expertise (and veering off topic), someone with that intention could have finished the flight more dramatically. Maybe they tried... $\endgroup$ – Camille Goudeseune Jun 5 at 16:13
  • $\begingroup$ I think when someone without training steals an airplane they probably have a low survival expectation... $\endgroup$ – GdD Jun 5 at 16:14
  • $\begingroup$ @CamilleGoudeseune They could have, but a majority of people who set out to end it all, don't necessarily want to take the world with them, stealing a fighter jet and managing to just kill yourself (and a barn), along with \$15 million of government property is pretty dramatic compared to most others. $\endgroup$ – Ron Beyer Jun 5 at 16:36
  • $\begingroup$ Speculating on motives and choises suicidal people make is rather, well, pointless. A person who has decided to take ones life acts beyond reason, as we have seen in the case of the very sad Germanwings crash. When you no longer have the will to live, all bets are off. $\endgroup$ – Jpe61 Jun 5 at 18:33

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