NORFOLK, Va. – An F-16 pilot killed when he crashed into the Gulf of Mexico during training did not go through the proper training to begin flying the jets again after a nearly 20-year hiatus, the Air Force says.
Matthew J. LaCourse of Panama City Beach, Florida, became disoriented while attempting to intercept another jet that was playing the role of an approaching drone, leading to the crash, according to the report released Tuesday by Air Combat Command at Langley Air Force Base, Virginia.
LaCourse, 58, graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1978 and retired from the Air Force in 2000 as a lieutenant colonel. In 2006, he took a job as a contractor with the 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida, where he previously served before his retirement. The squadron is a mix of highly experienced civilian and military personnel.
LaCourse became a civil service pilot for the squadron in 2010 and flew a wide variety of aircraft for the Air Force. But the report says LaCourse hadn't flown the F-16 since 1994 when he was recertified to fly it in 2014.
The report says LaCourse should have been required to attend F-16 centrifuge retraining before he was qualified to fly the jet again. That didn't happen, the report says, because his squadron's leadership misapplied Air Force guidance, inappropriately giving him credit for flying the F-4 Phantom.
"For this reason, the (pilot) was not current or qualified in the F-16," the report says.
During a senior officer course to transition to flying the F-16 the summer before the crash, the squadron's leaders also rated LaCourse's flight performance as "slightly below average."
Of the nearly 102 hours LaCourse had spent flying an F-16 in his career, 82 of those came before 1994. He spent less than nine hours flying the F-16 during seven different flights in the 90 days prior to the crash, the report says.
The maneuvers LaCourse performed during the training mission caused him to incorrectly perceive the angle of his bank and his general position, leaving him disoriented, the Air Force says. The report says LaCourse was nearly incapacitated and notes he didn't attempt any maneuvers during one 10-second period. He also lost sight of the other jet, which contributed to the crash, the report said.
The pilot was in fair health at the time of the crash with no conditions or illnesses that would limit his performance. He did not try to eject but did try to pull up in the final 12 seconds before crashing about 85 miles south of Tyndall Air Force Base, the report said.
Brock Vergakis can be reached at http://twitter.com/BrockVergakis