A preliminary accident report by the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) states that a critically low fuel state preceded the deadly crash of an Israeli-built Kfir F-21C2 (N404AX) single-seat fighter jet at a US Navy base in Fallon, Nevada, on 6 March.
Killed in the accident was retired Navy fighter pilot, Carroll LeFon, who was working as a civilian pilot for Virginia-based Airborne Tactical Advantage Company under a contract to the US Naval Air Systems Command. ATAC's fleet, including F-21s, Mk-58 Hawker Hunters and L-39 Albatrosses, pose as adversaries in training exercises for military pilots.
According to the NTSB, the pilot had initiated two ground control approach (GCA) radar-assisted approaches back to the Fallon air base that morning after a mission. With a GCA, controllers issue a pilot heading commands to line an aircraft up with a runway for landing in low visibility weather conditions.
Unsuccessful on both GCAs, LeFon attempted to divert to Reno, Nevada, "but was unable to land there as the field was reporting below minimum weather conditions," says the NTSB.
"The pilot then turned back toward Fallon and stated to air traffic controllers that he was in a critical fuel state," the report states. "The pilot then descended and manoeuvred first toward Runway 31, then toward Runway 13. The airplane struck the ground in an open field in the northwest corner of the airport property and impacted a concrete building on the field."
Wind was gusting to 34kt and snow was falling at the time of the accident, reducing visibility to between one-half mile and 1.5nm, says the NTSB.
ATAC in July 2010 lost an A4L Skyhawk (N132AT) in a non-fatal departure crash at Fallon, later attributed by the NTSB to the loss of protective coatings on the stator and turbine blades of the engine for unknown reasons. Contributing to the accident was "inadequate maintenance", the NTSB found. The pilot successfully ejected after determining he could not return to the airport.