The US Air Force is scrapping an Air Force Special Operations AC-130J Ghostrider plane, after an accident nullified its airworthiness.
Built by Lockheed Martin, the AC-130J is the fourth generation gunship meant to replace the aging fleet of 37 AC-130H/U/W gunships.
Primary missions of the highly modified C-130J aircraft are close air support, including troops in contact, convoy escort and point air defense, and air interdiction missions such as strike coordination and reconnaissance.
The aircraft was involved in an accident in April while conducting a medium risk flying qualities test sortie over the Gulf of Mexico, approximately 40 miles south of Eglin Air Force Base, Florida.
The mishap happened during steady heading sideslips at an altitude of approximately 15,000ft.
An investigation report released by the Air Force Materiel Command found that the aircraft exceeded the targeted angle of sideslip until it departed controlled flight and momentarily inverted before being recovered after losing approximately 5,000ft of altitude.
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The aircraft returned to base and landed safely without further incident.
"As a result of the mishap, the aircraft was ‘over G’d’, and exceeded its design limit load, thereby nullifying the airworthiness of the aircraft and rendering it a total loss.
"The damages are estimated at more than $115m," the report added.
There were no injuries to the onboard crew that belonged to the 413 Flight Test Squadron at Eglin.
The aircraft can accommodate two pilots, two combat systems officers and three enlisted gunners.
The Accident Investigation Board president found the cause of the accident to be the AC-130J pilot’s "excessive rudder input during the test point followed by inadequate rudder input to initiate a timely recovery from high angle of sideslip due to overcontrolled / undercontrolled aircraft and wrong choice of action during an operation".
Instrumentation and warning system issues, spatial disorientation, confusion, and inadequate provision of procedural guidance or publications to the team were found to be the four key contributing factors.
The plane was delivered to the Air Force Special Operations Command in July.
Image: Air Force Special Operations Command’s first AC-130J Ghostrider at Hurlburt Field, Florida. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Kai White.