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thedrifter
01-15-08, 07:37 AM
pilot disoriented in air show crash
Davis felt gravitational forces 7 times greater than normal
Published Tue, Jan 15, 2008 12:00 AM
By DAN HILLIARD
dhilliard@beaufortgazette.com
843-986-5531

Fallen Blue Angels pilot Lt. Cmdr. Kevin Davis crashed April 21 in the final moments of an air show at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort when he made a particularly fast, sharp turn, causing him to become disoriented when he experienced gravitational forces almost seven times greater than normal, according to a Navy report released during a press conference at the air station Monday.

Davis, 32, of Pittsfield, Mass., was lagging behind his fellow pilots in the show's final maneuver, so he banked his F/A-18 jet fighter and accelerated to more than 425 mph, according to Rear Adm. Mark Guadagnini, chief of naval air training.

The sudden force caused Davis to lose awareness of his speed and altitude, though he never lost consciousness or control of his plane, Guadagnini said.

In all likelihood, Davis regained his focus and tried to minimize damage to nearby homes just before the impact that took his life, he said.

"Knowing how good a pilot Lt. Cmdr. Davis was, we have evidence that he flew the plane all the way to the ground," Guadagnini said.

"It was one of those situations where any one of us, even with 10,000 hours of flighttime, could have run into."

At the press conference, Guadagnini said the Navy's nine-month investigation turned up several ways to adjust the Blue Angels' training and procedures to prevent future mishaps.

Normally, Blue Angels pilots only experience centrifuge training when they join the squadron, he said.

The would-be Blue Angels are strapped to a rotating arm where they experience gravitational forces between four and seven times greater than normal.

Now, all Blue Angels pilots will be required to endure the training annually.

In addition, the centrifuge's speed and pattern of gravitational stresses will betailored to the demands of a Blue Angels show, where pilots experience heightened gravitational forces at least25 times.

"It's not much different, it's just close to what they'll see in an airplane," he said.

Once the pilots are in the air, they have a set of standard operating procedures that act like a decision tree, giving them a few well-rehearsed options for unexpected situations.

Those procedures have been rewritten to take away some of the pilot's leeway, Guadagnini said.

"You'll see no difference in their performances," he said. "They'll follow the same procedures, but their decision points are more highly delineated."

The Blue Angels flight demonstration team has been invited to return to Beaufort for an air show in spring 2009, according to Col. Robert Lanham, commanding officer of the air station.

Guadagnini also addressed the 23 claims that have been made against the Navy for damage to nearby homes.

A total of $270,000 has been paid to 13 Beaufort County residents, he said. Five claims still are in adjudication, and the remaining claims have not formally been filed but they are expected, he said.

Claimants have up to two years to submit a claim, Guadagnini said.

Lanham said he learned Monday morning during a meeting with about 25 Beaufort residents affected by the crash that carbon fibers still are clinging to nearby trees, even after an extensive cleanup effort conducted by the Navy immediately following the crash.

The fibers can cause abscesses if they become lodged under skin, so an investigation will begin soon, he said.

Guadagnini echoed the Navy's official report when he said that the long-term effects of exposure to materials at the crash site are unknown. The records of military first responders have been updated to note their exposure to jet fuel and other chemicals at the crash site.

"Airplanes aren't made of nuts and berries and plants," he said. "They're made of carbon fibers, metal and chemicals."

Ellie