A tragic error by a student pilot on his first U-2 training flight killed instructor Lt. Col. Ira Steve “Shooter” Eadie last September in Northern California, according to the results of a U.S. Air Force accident investigation report released this week.
The aircraft, a TU-2S assigned to the 1st Reconnaissance Squadron, part of the 9th Reconnaissance Wing at Beale Air Force Base, was conducting an “acceptance flight” training mission, the first of three for the trainee, which is standard practice for potential new U-2 pilots to familiarize themselves with operation of the aircraft under the supervision of a highly-experienced instructor.
The aircraft actually performed the simulated stall 3 times. The first stall went well (flown by the student), while the second was flown by Eadie to show the student “less aggressive” use of controls and smoother yoke movement.
During the training maneuver, the engine isn’t actually shut down, but instead goes into an “aerodynamic stall”, requiring the pilot to drop the nose and gain velocity to generate enough lift to stabilize the aircraft and resume safe flight.
The fatal error occurred because the student pulled out of the simulated stall too quickly and demanded too much vertical movement, before the spy plane known as Dragon Lady was capable of safely flying again.
The $32 million aircraft then went into a sharp left wing drop and excessive nose-low attitude; the crew was no longer in control, and was rolling upside down while also approaching the minimum uncontrolled ejection altitude.
At this point, Lt. Col. Eadie calmly gave the command to EJECT, and while his student pilot bailed out safely with minor injuries, Eadie himself slammed into the plane’s right wing, breaking off a 5-foot chunk of it and resulting in his death.
Eadie’s lap belt may not have been secured when he ejected too, based off burn analysis on the belt.
The aircraft crashed into uninhabited grassy foothills south of the Sutter Buttes mountain range in the Sacramento Valley, and while nobody on the ground was injured the crash did set off a 250-acre wildfire.
“The purpose of this report was to identify the causes and contributing factors which may have contributed to the incident,” said Brig. Gen. David S. Nahom, president of the Accident Investigation Board. “This was a terrible tragedy, and our heartfelt condolences go out to Lt. Col. Eadie’s family.”
Eadie, a Florida native, was a 20-year military veteran of both the Navy and USAF, father of six and grandfather of a baby girl.
His student pilot has since recovered from his injuries and completed the necessary training required to pilot the U-2, and is doing so now.