On July 28, 2010, a US Air Force C-17 cargo plane crashed while practicing for an airshow at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska. All four crew on board were killed and the $184 million aircraft destroyed. The Air Force just released a report on the accident, which lays blame squarely at the feet of the pilot flying the plane. Essentially, in a desire to put on a more impressive performance, he deviated from normal airshow procedures for the C-17, and flew the aircraft lower, slower, and turned tighter. He’d done this sort of aggressive flying before while doing flight demonstrations. This time though, the big transport plane stalled and crashed. He was also responsible for training the other two pilots on board, who were acting as the copilot and safety observer, on demonstration flight procedures.

The Air Force, however, is publicly refusing to name which of the three pilots on board actually was flying, and thus responsible, it claims out of respect for the families of those killed. As an Air Force public affairs person put it:

Who sat where in the plane is not being released.

Nice thought, except that anyone who bothers to read the report and do about a minute of searching on the web can figure out who was sitting where. The accident report includes crew qualifications, which can easily be matched to the bios of those on board. Indeed, one of the bios in any case even strongly suggests who would have been flying.

Apparently, no one, and certainly not anyone in the press, is suppose to do such research though. And given the AP didn’t catch on, maybe the Air Force’s presumption of complete press incompetence is valid.

Bonus observation:
The report barely gets into why no one noticed or addressed the fact that Major Michael Freyholtz, the pilot in question, was consistently doing demonstrations at the edge of a stall.

Then there’s this from Freyholtz’s bio:

Most recently, he accompanied the United States Air Force Thunderbirds throughout the Pacific and demonstrated the capabilities of the C-17 to thousands of air show spectators.


Update: And this isn’t the first time a large US Air Force aircraft has been lost during a demonstration flight because of pilot error. Or otherwise.