Pilot Error Blamed for N.J. School Strafing

The Air Force (search) has concluded that pilot error and a poorly designed aircraft control caused an F-16 pilot to fire 27 rounds of 20mm ammunition, some of which struck a New Jersey elementary school, according to a report obtained Friday by The Associated Press.

The report said the pilot did not intend to strafe the Little Egg Harbor Township Intermediate School (search), calling the firing of the aircraft's gun an "unfortunate and unintentional mistake."

The pilot, from the 113th Wing of the District of Columbia National Guard (search), based at Andrews Air Force Base (search) in Maryland, was wearing night vision goggles on the training mission Nov. 3 when the shooting occurred. The pilot, referred to in the report as the mishap pilot, or MP, was verifying his aircraft position in relation to his intended target on the Warren Grove Gunnery Range (search) in southern New Jersey.

"This was accomplished by pulling the trigger, commanding the aircraft's targeting pod to emit a laser marker for orientation," the report said. "Unfortunately, the MP forgot that his aircraft's air to ground gun mode was selected and armed ready to fire. The MP immediately realized his error when the aircraft gun's discharged."

The report identifies the pilot as Maj. Roberto Balzano. He has more than 2,000 hours of experience flying planes, 975 hours of which were in the F-16s.