It’s a sad day for Finland’s Hornet community. The “frankenhornet”, a heavily modified F/A-18D restored to flying status in December, crashed during a flight test yesterday. Fortunately, the crew escaped with only broken limbs, as my colleague Craig Hoyle reports today.
But the crew’s injuries will undoubtedly heal faster than the wounded pride of both the Finnish and global Hornet community.
Tail number HN-468 had become a cause-celebre in Hornet circles. After colliding with an F/A-18C in 2001, the two-seater managed to land with a crippled structure forward of the cockpit. Five years later, Finland’s Patria and Boeing teamed up to launch a 100,000-man-hour, $18.5 million program to make HN-468 fly again. Patria acquired a second-hand nose section from a retired Canadian F-18B, mating the two sections together to create the “Frankenhornet”.
For Finland, this was no vanity project, but an attempt to salvage a critical piece of its investment in national security for an affordable price. For the Hornet community, it was an example uncommon in the global fighter industry of solidarity and support for a member in need.
The project came to a seemingly successful fruition on 3 December, when the restored and repaired HN-468 flew again. But yesterday’s crash occurred after the Frankenhornet completed only 4h of a 20h flight test program. The English-language Helsingin Sanomat newspaper explains what happened.
Initial indications arethat the pilots put the plane into a vertical ascent to an altitude ofmore than 10,000 metres, before cutting off thrust and allowing theplane to fall tail-first towards the ground. The aircraft was then spun through 180 degrees into a precipitous dive.
Atthis point it apparently lost manoeuvrability, and the crew -instructed by a second Hornet that had taken off from the Halli airforce base at the same time and was observing the exercise – deployedtheir ejector seats at a height of approximately 4,500 metres afterfailing to regain control.
According to FAF experts, the entire incident was over in the space of something like fifteen seconds.