As reported in the Sac Bee
An Air Force investigation into a U-2 spy plane crash near the Sutter Buttes in September revealed a tragic error when a pilot in his first flight in the famed spy plane throttled up too quickly in a training exercise on recovering from a midair stall.
As a result of the fateful maneuver, the Air Force announced Wednesday, the aircraft went into an “unintentional secondary stall.” According to a detailed report on the incident, the U-2 suddenly rolled hard, banking to the left. A training pilot voiced an order: “Eject, dude.”
During the ejection, the instructor pilot from Beale Air Force Base, Lt. Col. Ira S. Eadie died and the other pilot was injured. The plane plunged into grassy hills in Sutter County, setting off a 250-acre wildfire.
“During the ejection sequence, the instructor pilot and his ejection seat struck the aircraft’s right wing resulting in fatal injuries,” an Air Force news release stated.
In an interview, Air Force Maj. A.J. Schrag at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia said the exercise involved putting the aircraft into “aerodynamic stall” – not an actual engine shutdown – in which the plane isn’t flying with sufficient speed to overcome the gravitational forces. He said the pilot is instructed to drop the nose of the aircraft downward and increase velocity “to generate enough lift” to resume proper air speed to maintain flight.
Schrag said the Langley-based Air Combat Investigation Board concluded that the trainee pilot pulled out of the simulated stall too quickly, causing a second stall from which the crew couldn’t recover. The Air Force news release said the plane plunged sharply to the left with the nose of the plane at “excessive” low altitude.
“A secondary stall is something a young pilot may often do,” Schrag said. “They will too quickly pull back on the nose and that gets them into a second stall. This occurred about 10 minutes into the pilot’s first flight in the U-2 and he didn’t have the skill set yet. He tried a recovery … and demanded too much vertical movement before the aircraft was able to fly again.”
Schrag said the surviving pilot is still active and that his name isn’t being released under Air Force policy. He was treated for minor injuries at an area hospital after the Sept. 20 incident.