Aircraft Investigation
Each mishap has their own characteristics and there is no substitute for good old-fashioned common sense and initiative. Each wrecked aircraft has it's own story to tell if properly investigated. However Air Force guidelines are quick to point out that investigators in their eagerness seek out the causes, often ignore safe investigation practices and common safety precautions. Air Force Investigators are maybe in even more difficult position due to the hazards that are unique to the military war fighting machines, I'll discuss a few of these hazards briefly before I get into the steps of Air Force accident investigations.
Extreme care must be given to the munitions that may have been on board the aircraft. Just because the ammunition appears to be damaged beyond being dangerous the slightest amount of static electricity from clothing may detonate munitions. Before starting an investigation of any kind, obtain the list of munitions aboard and have the explosive ordinance disposal (EOD) team remove or inert them. Again eagerness must be controlled and situational awareness must be exercised to be on the lookout for those munitions that may not have been recovered. Also, though tedious, the locations of all munitions need to be noted, as they will hold clues as well. The ejection seats can also present extreme dangers to untrained and careless investigator.
Hydrazine. It's a word that strikes fear in all that are familiar with it. New generation aircraft such as the F-16 use hydrazine for emergency power supplies. It looks like a clear oily substance that smells like ammonia. Some of the effects hydrazine can have on the human body include: liver damage, blindness, skin burns, and prolong exposure may be fatal. Only base bioenvironmental engineers are qualified enough to properly handle it.
Also somewhat unique but is gradually finding its way into the commercial side of aviation is the use of high composite materials along with exotic metals used in the effort to not only strengthen, but to lighten the overall weight of the airframe.
The composites used with most frequency today are boron, graphite and Kevlar. Each of these materials has their own characteristics and must be handled with care. While in its finished form Kevlar is very stable, boron and graphite must be handled with extreme care to avoid breathing in dust created when the structures become damaged. Boron fibers can pierce through skin and stay imbedded indefinitely and cannot be removed easily causing severe infections.
Funding Issues
The host base funds all in-house support (except billeting) even if the host base is not assigned to the convening authority's MAJCOM. In-house support includes administrative support and equipment, work areas, reproduction, and graphics. The MAJCOM or ANG command that possesses the mishap aircraft is responsible for all costs associated with the crash site clean up and restoration. (USAF, 1998)
The following are a condensed version of the steps given to the accident board president to help guide them through the process of getting organized and to better use some the broad assets available to the military accident board president, the steps comprise parts of both AFI 51-503 and AFP 127-1.
1. Get organized before running to the ?smoking hole.?
a. Find out what was done at the crash site.
b. Determine the support needed from the base that owns the aircraft. They will
be best informed of the nature of the airframe.
2. Get to know your board members so you'll have an idea of their capabilities and how you can best use them.
a. If you know a sharp officer or NCO that you would like on the board, ask for
b. Secure any voice recordings, videotapes and films pertinent to the mishap and be prepared to send copies when requested.
3. Working with the interim board members:
a. Secure evidence they captured. They might lose it when they go back to their jobs.
b. Have them provide a list of interim board members with their work/home phone numbers.
c. Request they discuss with their safety office any ?glitches? they discovered in the unit mishap response plan.
d. Ensure a face-to-face hand-off takes place for a positive exchange of information and investigative authority.
e. Assess exactly what was accomplished, and what the interim board feels is the next step.
4. Technical assistance/airlift support:
a. Request it only if you need it.
b. All