Flight data recorder recovered after Hornet crash
Pilots on test flight ejected after manoeuvre failed and plane plummeted from 10,000 metres
Two Finnish Air Force pilots suffered serious limb fractures in a crash involving an F-18D Hornet fighter on Thursday morning. Both airmen have fractures to the arms and legs and were operated on in Tampere on Thursday evening.
They ejected from the plane as it plummeted to earth and were saved by their parachutes. Both the officers are said to be in stable condition.
As soon as the news of the pilots' survival became clear, attention turned to the cause of the accident - and at the same time to who was going to pay for it.
The aircraft in question was by no means a standard F/A-18 Hornet: the two-seater fighter-interceptor with a book value of EUR 38 million was practically brand-new, and had undergone only four hours of a 20-hour test flight sequence prior to delivery to the Finnish Air Force. Prior to the test-flights, the plane had successfully undergone some 300 systems tests.
The plane was not insured during the test-flight sequence, and nor were the two experienced crew members, a 44-year-old Lieutenant-Colonel and a 32-year-old Captain.
As we reported here (see linked article), the Finnish arms and aerospace company Patria showed off in September 2009 a unique D-series Hornet, registration number HN-468, which was assembled from the mid-section of a Finnish single-seat Hornet damaged in a November 2001 mid-air collision (HN-413), the forward section of a second-hand Canadian two-seater, and a new front fuselage nearly entirely constructed by Patria.
This was the aircraft - jocularly referred to in Air Force circles as "Frankenplane" - that was destroyed on Thursday as it underwent field testing prior to delivery.
Initial indications are that the pilots put the plane into a vertical ascent to an altitude of more than 10,000 metres, before cutting off thrust and allowing the plane to fall tail-first towards the ground.
The aircraft was then spun through 180 degrees into a precipitous dive.
At this point it apparently lost manoeuvrability, and the crew - instructed by a second Hornet that had taken off from the Halli air force base at the same time and was observing the exercise - deployed their ejector seats at a height of approximately 4,500 metres after failing to regain control.
According to FAF experts, the entire incident was over in the space of something like fifteen seconds.
The flight data recorder was recovered from the crash site, on a rocky slope in an unpopulated area near Juupajoki, on Friday morning.
The Finnish Air Force investigation team will attempt to piece together what happened as soon as possible and preliminary findings are expected next week.
The aircraft was not surprisingly completely destroyed, and wreckage was spread over a large area.
The crash site was cordoned off immediately.
Several international companies took part in the construction of HN-468 between 2005 and 2009, among them the U.S. aerospace firm Boeing.
The assembly required more than half a million individual components and 23,000 new parts from dozens of suppliers in different countries, mainly Canada and the United States.
Finland originally purchased a total of 64 Hornets (7 two-seat F-18D models and 57 single-seat F-18C models) from 1992.
The 57 single-seat aircraft were assembled in Finland by Patria.
Upgrades to the initial armament and configuration have been made over the years.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Finnish Patria constructs twin-seat Hornet fighter jet from fuselages of two old aircraft (22.9.2009)
Two F-18 Hornets in mid-air collision, one destroyed (9.11.2001)
A video of Hornets of the Karelian Air Command training in 2008
Mid-Life update of Hornets is second-largest weapons deal in Finnish military history (2.10.2008)
US refuses to sell air-to-ground missiles for Finland´s Hornet jets (5.2.2007)
Finnish Air Force F-18 Hornet (Wikipedia)
A thread on the miltaryphotos.net message board referring to the construction of the F/A-18 D
Finnish Air Force
Patria press release from September 2009 on the roll-out of HN-468