Fatigue and inexperience were the causes of an aircraft incident that took place at Dover Air Force Base in May, according to a report issued following a formal investigation by the Air Force.
A redacted copy of the report was obtained by the Dover Post from the Air Mobility Command; AMC is the command headquarters for Dover AFB.
The airplane was a 20-year-old C-17 Globemaster III from Joint Base Charleston, S.C. and was flown by a Charleston crew. The flight plan had the crew departing Afghanistan and then making a rest stop at a base in Turkey, after which they flew to a base in Spain and then headed across the Atlantic Ocean for Dover. The crew was scheduled to fly to Charleston following their stop at Dover.
According to the report, the crew was a little over 19 hours into a scheduled 22-hour flight duty period when the aircraft approached Dover at 2:46 p.m., May 9.
The crew elected to land the aircraft on Runway 01, the end of which is immediately adjacent to Del. Route 1, and is several hundred feet from the Tilcon borrow pit, across Route 1.
According to the report, the aircraft came in at the wrong angle, descending to 300 feet above the ground. Both the pilot and copilot did not recognize anything was amiss until the plane was approximately 75 feet above the ground when they received a warning the aircraft was losing the speed necessary to keep it in the air. As this occurred, about two seconds before touchdown, the pilot started a "go around" procedure, designed to get the aircraft back into the air for another landing attempt. This effort failed due to lack of time and engine thrust, however, and the C-17 was low enough that its main landing gear hit an antenna array at the end of the runway.
The aircraft touched down on an unimproved area of the runway, approximately 1,000 feet short of the concrete surface, resulting in blown tires and damage to the fuselage, landing gear and gear doors.
Immediately after landing, the pilot allowed the aircraft to coast down the runway until he could move it to an adjacent taxiway. No one among the passengers or crew was injured.
The report found neither the pilot nor the copilot had brought in an aircraft at the required 2.5-degree angle required for Dover and that the pilot had set the aircraft instrumentation at three-degrees, which is the standard approach for most airfields. The long hours in the air most likely were a factor, as the pilot failed to recognize a number of factors that, if corrected, could have prevented the accident.
The report did not include an estimate of monetary damage to the aircraft, although an item in the unofficial Air Force Times placed the figure at $7 million. It also did not detail any disciplinary action taken against the crew, as those actions would typically be handled within the chain of command at Charleston.