CF-188 crash in Cold Lake prompts safety recommendations

Canada’s Department of National Defence Airworthiness Investigative Authority has released a final report about a fatal CF-188 crash involving Capt Thomas McQueen of Hamilton, Ont.

Royal Canadian Air Force Capt Thomas McQueen
Royal Canadian Air Force Capt Thomas McQueen of Hamilton, Ont., died when the CF-188 Hornet fighter jet he was flying collided with terrain in 2016. RCAF Photo
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McQueen, a 10-year Royal Canadian Air Force veteran, was part of a two-ship formation on an air-to-ground training mission inside the Cold Lake Weapons Range near 4 Wing Cold Lake, Alta., on Nov. 28, 2016.

He was fatally injured when the aircraft struck the ground in a descending left turn.

The available evidence did not support a mechanical failure, bird strike or pilot incapacitation scenario, according to the report.

“Therefore, it appears that the pilot was capable of controlling the aircraft but did not adequately monitor the aircraft’s flight path while manoeuvring in the low level environment, and allowed the aircraft to enter an overbank situation and the nose to drop well below the horizon,” the report said.

“A recovery may have been attempted at the last second but there was not enough altitude available to safely recover the aircraft.”

McQueen, using the call sign “Swift 32,” was engaged in a training mission whose objective was to practice level deliveries of two Mark 83 inert bombs, followed by two laser guided training rounds, simulating laser-guided bombs.

The plan was to ingress to the target and drop weapons from 600 feet above ground level, the report said.

To avoid simulated bomb fragmentation after dropping their bombs, each pilot–Swift 32 and Swift 31–would fly a “breakaway manoeuver” comprising a steep turn through 90 degrees of heading change.

After his Mark 83 drop, McQueen manoeuvred his aircraft in a manner that was “suggestive of a pilot attempting to visually spot his weapon impact,” losing over 200 feet of altitude in the process, the report said.

He then assumed tactical lead, with Swift 31 flying about two miles in trail of Swift 32 and lasing the target for Swift 32, who then dropped his laser-guided training round.

The ingress to the target was flown at approximately 500 feet above ground level, the report said.

Immediately after dropping his laser-guided training round, McQueen initiated a steep left turn, reaching a maximum left bank angle of 118 degrees while pulling approximately 5g, the report said.

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The aircraft nose began to pitch towards and then below the horizon, eventually reaching a nose-down pitch angle of minus 17 degrees and concurrently generating a large descent rate, the report said.

About 1.5 seconds before impact the aircraft began rolling right. The bank angle had reduced to approximately 30 degrees left, and the pitch angle increased to approximately minus 10 degrees when ground impact occurred.

McQueen made no radio calls during the turn, did not eject, and was fatally injured when the aircraft struck the ground, the report said.

While the reason for the apparent lack of flight path monitoring cannot be known with certainty, the report said circumstantial evidence suggests the pilot “may have been distracted from the critical task of terrain clearance while attempting to spot his weapon impact.”

Safety recommendations in the report include the re-enforcement of low-level awareness training principles and improved training on terrain awareness warning system reactions.

The full report is available on the RCAF website.

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