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Tue, Jan 15, 2008

Report: Pilot Failed To Compensate For G-Forces In Blue Angels Mishap

Blackout Led To Accident At MCAS Beaufort

The US Navy's final report on the April 2007 loss of an F/A-18 pilot during a performance of the Blue Angels aerial demonstration team concludes the pilot failed to properly tense his muscles to counter the g-forces from a high-speed turn.

As ANN reported, Blue Angel #6, piloted by Lt. Cmdr. Kevin Davis (right), impacted a residential area near Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort in South Carolina near the end of an April 21, 2007 performance. Davis' plane pulled an extremely tight turn to rejoin the formation just before the mishap.

"In his final turn to attempt to rendezvous with the other Blues, he put a very fast, high-G turn on the aircraft. A real aggressive turn," Capt. Jack Hanzlik, a Navy spokesman and former aviator, told the Associated Press. The turn subjected Davis to six Gs of force.

The Blue Angels fly without the benefit of G-suits, which prevent pilots from blacking out during such maneuvers by inflating air bladders against the lower body to force blood upward to the head and heart. Instead, Blues are taught to handle the forces by tensing their abdominal and leg muscles.

It isn't bravado that keeps the Blue Angels from wearing G-suits, but rather the center-mounted control stick of the F/A-18.

Inflation of a suit's air bladders could cause the pilot to bump the stick, putting the plane into an uncommanded attitude during precise maneuvering. Members of the USAF Thunderbirds demonstration team do wear g-suits, as the side-mounted controller of the F-16 provides room for the bladders to inflate.

"Kevin had performed these maneuvers in training and in the fleet. He had done them in similar situations and he had a history of performing them well without any problems," Hanzlik said... but, apparently, not in the accident. Due to the high forces, Davis likely suffered a temporary loss of blood flow to his brain, leading to tunnel vision and disorientation.

In a heartbreaking statement, the report also notes Davis did try to recover, "and in the last few seconds he may have been aware of his low altitude and was attempting to save the aircraft," said the report by Marine Lt. Col. Javier J. Ball.

The AP obtained the accident report through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.

The investigation also found the Blues violated Navy policy by allowing the waiver allowing the pilots to fly without g-suits to expire in 2005 -- a lapse Ball called "a lack of careful attention to operating requirements." The waiver was reinstated following Davis' accident.

FMI: www.blueangels.navy.mil

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