There are two USAF bases in Korea, Osan and Kunsan. Kunsan is located 200 miles south of Seoul. It is home to the 8th Fighter Wing (“The Wolfpack”) and several army units. The principal fighter aircraft operating from Kunsan is the F-16, and on July 29th, 2011, four of them were preparing for take off.
As the group taxied out, the pilot of the first aircraft came to a stop and ran through a standard procedure to verify the operation of his radar warning receiver (which, operating around North Korea, isn’t just busy work). The second and third aircraft came to a halt behind the first. However, the fourth didn’t, and impacted the third aircraft in line. Fortunately, no-one was injured and the damage was kept to the two aircraft.
Repair costs to the aircraft totaled $2.5M. I don’t know, but I expect, the pilot admitted he was distracted. It was a rear end shunt. No more and no less. A fender bender of the type that happens at traffic lights all over the US. It shouldn’t have happened, they shouldn’t happen at traffic lights either, but they do.
Even to the Air Force, $2.5M isn’t chump change, so they conducted an investigation. This is a good thing, $2.5M takes a lot of taxes to pay for.
Predictably, the investigation found “clear and convincing” evidence the cause of the mishap was the pilot’s failure to properly monitor his aircraft’s position relative to the aircraft in front of him. I think we can all agree with that, it’s a statement of the obvious, but it is “clear and convincing.”
Things got less clear after that. The pilot failure was apparently due to (take a deep breath here):
a breakdown in visual scan, task mis-prioritization, channelized attention, overconfidence and excessive motivation to succeed.
Er … um … right. Clear and convincing?
What drives people to want to categorize things like this? Do those categories prevent a reoccurrence of this type of accident? I doubt it.
I always suspect language like this. When you make the simple sound complex you’re trying to evade blame. I’m not saying the pilot did in this case. In fact, his life was probably a living hell from all the jokes in the bar. But officialdom wanted to create the impression that there were lots of highly technical reasons for the accident, and we can forgive him for those. The simple fact that he was distracted doesn’t seem to be an acceptable reason.
And in a world that’s already beyond the limits of human understanding, do we really need to be making things more complicated?
(Images courtesy of US Air Force Kunsan)
Hi Nigel. I suspect that conversations between the squadron commander and the pilot will be less “formal”. I’m glad I’m not that Pilot. He will be reviewing his career alternatives this week. The squadron commander will then be explaining to the wing commander “what the %$#* happened”. I hope the pilot likes desk work and cold weather. It’s sad for all concerned because the Wolf Pack has pretty high selection standards.
The Navy and Army also engage in the constant invention of unintelligible language. In the modern military if it can’t be said with twelve or more recently invented words it isn’t real. The Air Force is the currrent reigning champion in creating impressive sounding combinations of syllables.
The Coast Guard and the Marine Corps do their best to stay out of the word game. The Marine Corps has an advantage. Whenever it suits them they can refer reporters to the Navy Information Office. I love it when the Navy then assigns a 19 year old female 3rd class petty officer to conduct the press confrence. “That’s all the information that our command has at this time. As more information becomes available we’ll be able to develop a more complete assessment of the critical details surrounding this incident”. A journalist then asks a question and the youngster answers with “We don’t have that information at this time.” I take a perverse pleasure in watching a 19 year old female sailor mug a mob of hungry journalists.
In response to jargon and BS Army officers assigned to combat units like to say “we’re not going to win the war with a &^%*@!& Power Point presentation!
Ah, if only we could resolve all conflict with a powerpoint or two. They usually send me to sleep, so it would probably not be a violent resolution if I was involved.
Seeing as it will take quite a few of us to pay off the 2.5M it cost to repair the F-16, lets hope he was given a shovel and a map of Alaska and instructions to clear the streets around Nome.
You can just tell that the Navy Information Office was expressly set up to stop information getting out, bit like hiding it in plain sight. It reminds me of an old joke about what “owning” a building means to the services:
To the they Navy it means shelling it from a destroyer 20 miles out.
To the Marines it means fast-roping from helicopters onto the roof and clearing it room by room down to the ground floor.
To the Army it means surrounding it with tanks, shelling the building and leaving a 19 year old on each corner of the smoldering rubble.
And to the Air Force it means taking out a five year lease.
As a mild-mannered technical writer by day, I have to admit to a moment of perverse respect for the sheer obfuscatory brilliance of the first three “reasons”.
But they completely lost me with the last one. “Excessive motivation to succeed”? I didn’t realize the airforce aspired to the smooth insertion of F-16 suppositories.
I feel sorry for that pilot, though. I’ve been known to make dumb mistakes, but at least I’m lucky enough not to make them in a multi-million-dollar aircraft under international scrutiny. Ouch.
LOL. When I read “excessive motivation to succeed” I thought isn’t that what we want? but the smooth insertion thing escaped me (so to speak).
Yeah, if you’re going to make an idiot of yourself don’t do it with the world watching. Which reminds me of skiing, black runs, off-piste fine, but you go under and chair lift and wham, you’re flat on your butt – or at least I am.
I’m going to sign off because I’m suffering from task-saturation, and in need of some consciousness re-engineering by co-locating with a horizontal support system.
SNORT! (A step up from LOL in my imaginary world on the laugh meter.) Where do you find these pearls of snortdom? No. Don’t tell me. I’ll go chasing a new shiny bauble.
LOVED this article. And, the responses, Nigel.
I already know Holmes and his humor, satire, spook-ily accurate assessment of all things military and international.
But, my surfboard hasn’t yet run into Diane. Anyone who concocts “smooth insertion of F16 suppositories” is someone I need to know and follow.
Where do I find these pearls of wisdom? Ahhhhh, can’t tell you I’m afraid. Journalists never reveal their sources, do they? And me? I’m not about to break that long held, much cherished code. Well, that and I can’t remember, but let’s keep moving.
Best of luck for a “smooth insertion” with Diane 🙂 and hopefully everything goes well with your multi-dog-management strategies this weekend.
Piper and Holmes are my favorite people to follow, Holmes for his relevance and Piper for her … well, the opposite.