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HUMAN ERROR, FEATHERED FOES LEAD TO F-16 CRASH

The millionth F-16 Fighting Falcon flying training hour at Luke Air Force Base was reached March 13. F-16s first touched down at Luke AFB on Dec. 6, 1982. To date, Luke has graduated 18,164 F-16 fighter pilots. Approximately 2,000 F-16 hours are flown a month by Luke pilots and students. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Devante Williams)

While performing a touch-and-go, an F-16 Fighting Falcon from Luke AFB, Ariz., ingested at least three birds in its engine. That, along with some missteps by the pilot, let to the destruction of the aircraft and a total of nearly $22 million in damages. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Devante Williams)

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas -- A pilot's decision-making error after suffering low-altitude bird strikes during takeoff led to the  destruction of an F-16D Fighting Falcon at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., June 26, 2013, according to the recently released Air Force accident investigation board report.

The instructor pilot and student, assigned to the 56th Fighter Wing's 309th Fighter Squadron, were  executing a planned touch- and-go training exercise when the aircraft's engine ingested at least  three birds. This led to degraded engine performance.

Accident board investigators said the instructor pilot then erroneously elected to make an immediate turn that robbed the aircraft of altitude and airspeed, rather than climbing straight ahead to achieve minimum maneuvering speed  for aircraft recovery. The instructor pilot's channelized attention and breakdown of visual scan limited the time to fully analyze the situation and successfully recover flight, the report said.

Both pilots safely ejected the aircraft, suffering only minor injuries. There were no fatalities  or significant injuries, and only limited damage to civilian property. The estimated damage costs are nearly $22 million.