By Richard Clark, News On 6
TULSA, OK -- The Air Force may be blaming a local Air National guardsman for a dummy bomb being dropped on a Tulsa apartment building last spring.
An F-16 from Tulsa's 138th Fighter Wing accidentally dropped the practice bomb on the afternoon of March 13th.
The bomb ended up in a bathroom at the Canyon Creek Apartments near 51st and Lewis. The couple who lived in the apartment wasn't home at the time and no one was hurt.
The News On 6 used a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain the final report on the incident from the Air Force Safety Center located at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque.
According to the report, the bomb fell off the F-16 just a few minutes after it took off from Tulsa International Airport. Investigators said there was no indication to the pilot that the bomb, a Bomb Dummy Unit or BDU-33, had detached from his plane, and he and his wingman continued on with their mission.
The report says the mishap aircraft, an F-16D with the call sign Tribe 1, was the lead plane of the two-ship training mission. The jets took off on a "basic surface attack" training mission to the Smoky Hill Gunnery Range near Salina, Kansas. The jet was loaded with six of the 25-pound BDU-33's suspended by Triple Ejector Racks or TER's.
According to the report, the bomb that fell off was attached to a TER on the right wing of the F-16. It fell off as the plane made a turn to the north to head for Kansas.
Investigators said the first indication that there was a problem came at the bombing range. The pilot of Tribe 1 completed six separate passes, dropping one dummy bomb at a time, but on the final pass received a "no spot" from the range control officer, meaning neither he nor the pilot saw the bomb hit the ground. The pilots of the two airplanes then conducted a routine Battle Damage Assessment, flying close to each other to look for unexpended bombs or any damage to the aircraft. The other pilot confirmed that all six bombs had been released from Tribe 1.
The jets then returned to Tulsa. As the planes were being inspected after landing, a weapons loader discovered that one of the cartridges, small charges designed to eject the bombs from the TER's, had not been electrically activated. He notified his supervisor and the airplane was impounded.
The Air National Guard learned from law enforcement agencies that evening where the BDU-33 from that TER had landed.
The 138th Fighter Wing formed its own Safety Investigation Board, treating the mishap as a Class C incident, where damage is greater than $20,000 but less than $200,000. But because of the publicity of the case and the fact that the BDU-33 could have seriously injured someone, the National Guard decided to convene a full mishap board.
The Air Force Safety Center redacted much of the board's final report on the incident. However, it does suggest someone on the ground violated a written Air Force rule, by tugging on the TER in the wrong direction after it was loaded on the plane.
Investigators had sent the TER to Warner Robins Air Force Base in Georgia. Engineers there concluded that the last annual inspection of the TER's, in October of 2007, was inadequate due to the amount of corrosion and dirt found in several components. However, the engineers would not conclusively say if the dirt or corrosion contributed to the accidental release.
On the other hand, the engineers said testing has indicated that someone tugging aft on the cylinder which holds the explosive cartridge in the TER can cause the BDU-33 to release as soon as the safety pin is removed, or when the BDU-33 is subjected to excessive vibration or G force. The report says "this could cause a BDU to fall off the TER in-flight."
The report's conclusions have been redacted. However, the report does state that there is a warning in Technical Order 1F-16C-33-1-2 in chapter 1 "General Safety Requirements" which reads "do not pull back on TER breech to check for security after store has been loaded." This suggests that a weapons loader or inspector may have done just that, while routinely checking to make sure the dummy bombs were secured before the F-16 left the ground that day.
Calls to the 138th Fighter Wing for comment on the report haven't been returned.