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Thunderbird sonic boom caused $22K in damages

Dec. 19, 2012 - 12:37PM   |   Last Updated: Dec. 19, 2012 - 12:37PM  |  
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A Thunderbird pilot from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., who was practicing for a weekend air show over downtown Tucson on the afternoon of April 13 created a sonic boom that shattered windows when he surpassed the speed of sound for several seconds.

Damage to Tucson homes and businesses came to more than $22,000, according to a command-directed investigation posted Dec. 8 on the Air Force Freedom of Information Act website. The Air Force settled about 47 claims ranging from $30 to several thousand dollars apiece.

The investigation attributed the boom to pilot error. Following a series of turns, rolls, descents and accents, the pilot, whose named was redacted from the report, tried to rejoin another aircraft. "Task saturated," the report says, the pilot "failed to adequately crosscheck" his air speed and reduce power.

"There is an audible ‘oh crap' in [the pilot's] intercom at the time he recognizes his mistake," the investigation says.

The boom that followed on that Friday afternoon shook buildings, broke glass and triggered a flurry of 911 calls — about 90 of them beginning at 2:25 p.m., a news release from the local police department said at the time. Some callers reported an explosion. Others referred to it as a sonic boom.

Base officials immediately took responsibility for the ruckus and asked people with property damage to report it to them. A Davis-Monthan news release at the time said the sonic boom was rare.

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