A North Carolina-based Air National Guard C-130 cargo plane crashed while fighting forest fires in South Dakota on July 1, 2012. Class A mishaps rose this past fiscal year. ()
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The number of the most serious type of mishaps for manned aircraft rose 25 percent in fiscal 2012, but that's still well below where it was 10 years ago, officials said.
Fiscal 2012 saw 20 Class A mishaps, which involve at least $2 million of damage, a permanent total disability or a fatality. That's up from 15 Class A mishaps for manned aircraft in the previous fiscal year.
The Air Force does not see this increase as "an alarming trend statistics-wise," said Lt. Col. Rich Fields, chief of the aviation operations safety branch.
Fiscals 2009, 2010 and 2011 were "the three lowest years in recorded Air Force history" for Class A mishaps, Fields said. By way of comparison, fiscal 2002 saw 35 Class A mishaps. The 10-year average from fiscal 2002 to 2011 is 24 mishaps per fiscal year.
"So when we look at the difference it's five more mishaps: You throw in a couple of weather-related [issues], you throw in a couple of parts that unfortunately broke this time, that cost a little more, that crossed that $2 million threshold and it's within the range of averages," Fields said.
Air Combat Command had 10 Class A mishaps in fiscal 2012, the most of the major commands, followed by Air Force Special Operations Command with three mishaps, two mishaps for Air Mobility Command two mishaps for Pacific Air Forces, two for the "Air Force at large" and one for the Air National Guard.
The F-22 had three Class A mishaps and three less severe Class B mishaps in fiscal 2012 — the most mishaps on record for the plane in one year.
There is not "one particular reason" for the high number of F-22 mishaps, said Col. Stephen Matson, chief of the aviation safety division.
"There were some that were training related; there were engine problems; there were a couple lightning strikes, so it's very difficult to hone in on a single event this year," Matson said.
Meanwhile, the B-1 had a total of five Class A and B mishaps in fiscal 2012, compared with no such mishaps for the B-2 and B-52. Officials attributed the B-1 mishaps to "chance" and weather-related issues while emphasizing the B-2 and B-52 have stellar safety records.
A total of 11 unmanned aircraft and 10 manned aircraft were destroyed in fiscal 2012 through mishaps. The manned aircraft were: three F-16s, three F-15s, and one each for the C-130, CV-22, U-28 and M-28.
Nine airmen were killed in crashes last fiscal year: Four died in a Feb. 28 U-28 crash in Africa; one was killed March 28 when his F-15 crashed in southwest Asia; and four were killed July 1 when a C-130 went down while fighting forest fires in South Dakota.
In comparison, 22 airmen died in FY 2002; 10 in 2003; 13 in 2004; 12 in 2005; none in 2006; two in 2007; 13 in 2008; four in 2009; seven in 2010, and two in 2011.
Of the unmanned aircraft destroyed, eight were RQ-1s and were three MQ-9s, Fields said. Since fiscal 2005, the rate for unmanned aircraft crashes has dropped from 21.6 to 3.13 per 100,000 flying hours.
Much of that decrease is due to engineering improvements, Fields said.
"And now we have a very robust effort to identify human factors and to really get to the operator part of the issues that involve a lot mishaps, both manned and unmanned," Fields said.