CF-18 fighter jet crashes are rare despite Cold Lake fatal: RCAF
by Peder Myhr (feat. Rob Huebert)
November 29, 2016
The crash of a fighter jet near Cold Lake, Alberta Monday resulted in the death of pilot Capt. Thomas McQueen, though the cause of the crash is unknown.
The aircraft involved was a CF-18 Hornet, the primary fighter jet utilized by the Canadian Forces. Though the jets have been in service for Canada since 1983, Rob Huebert, associate director of the Centre for Military and Strategic Studies at the University of Calgary, says the jets have a history of success and safety.
“We got these aircraft in 1983. Most of them started being built between ’77 and ’83,” Huebert told Global News.
The Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) said there have been 19 crashes involving CF-18 Hornets. Of those incidents, 11 have included fatalities.
It’s a number that Huebert says points to the reliability of the jets.
“The CF-18 has been a very successful aircraft.”
The last crash of a Canadian CF-18 was in November, 2010. The jet crashed after the pilot was blinded by snow while attempting to land at the Cold Lake base. The pilot ejected from the CF-18 and parachuted to safety.
Four months earlier, at an airshow practice in southern Alberta, another CF-18 crashed. A military investigation concluded that a piston in the jet got stuck during a maneuver. The pilot ejected seconds before the crash and survived.
The last Canadian Air Force pilot killed while operating a CF-18 was Capt. Kevin Naismith, in June, 2003, also in Cold Lake, Alberta.
A report released by the Air Force Flight Safety Investigators said that the captain’s death was the result of the jet’s high speed, low altitude and the pilot’s ejection from the plane during an “adverse motion of the aircraft” near the Cold Lake base.
The Canadian Forces Base Cold Lake base, located near the Alberta/Saskatchewan border, is one of the busiest fighter bases in Canada and only one of two that are used by the CF-18 jets. It’s also located on one end of the Cold Lake Air Weapons Range (CLAWR), a nearly 12,000 square kilometre tract of land used for live training with hundreds of targets, runways, missile launching sites and military equipment.
Huebert says the variety of difficult training operations and the fact fighter jets are highly complex machines requiring highly-skilled operators creates the possibility of a crash.
“One of the problems that you always have with very advanced fighter aircraft is given what they are required to do. Crashing is unfortunately part of the profession,” Huebert said.
“Amongst the crashes that have occurred, there’s a wide range and nothing really in terms of an ongoing problem can be attributed.”