GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — The pilot of a fighter jet operated by a military contractor that crashed outside Phoenix last month reported a fuel problem and then a failure of the jet's engine before he ejected and the plane went down in the open desert, according to a preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board.
The French-built Mirage F1 was flying out of Luke Air Force Base in the Phoenix suburb of Glendale on Feb. 10 on a mission to help train military fighter pilots from the training base.
The NTSB report says the pilot was flying with another contractor jet operating out of Luke as aggressors, planes that simulate attacks on competing fighters. The two supersonic Mirage fighters split up to work in a military operations area northwest of Phoenix, and near the end of the activity the pilot reported there was a discrepancy in two cockpit fuel indicators.
The pilot left the training area when he reached minimum fuel levels and was flying back toward Luke when he said he lost fuel pressure and the engine quit, according to the NTSB report.
The pilot told investigators that he tried to restart the jet's engine but that effort failed. When he determined he was too far away from Luke to get the plane safely on the runway he steered the jet out into an open desert area and ejected.
The pilot suffered minor injuries and the plane crashed about 16 miles (26 kilometers) northwest of the base. The wreckage has been recovered and will be examined by investigators who are trying to determine the cause of the crash.
The pilot's identity has not been released, but he was flying for for Airborne Tactical Advantage Co., a Newport News, Va., company that contracts with the military. The company known as ATAC is one of a growing number of contractors that fly aircraft to help train military aviators and operates the F1 and other former military jets. It provides aggressor aircraft to help military fighter pilots learn their trade as well as other services to the military.
The crash was the second involving a Mirage F1 operated by a contractor in the past year. A jet operated by a different contractor crashed in Las Vegas last year as the pilot came in to land at Nellis Air Force Base. The pilot — Nicholas Hunter Hamilton, 43, of Las Vegas — died.
The May 24 crash happened after Hamilton had an inflight emergency, and the plane crashed into a neighborhood, bursting into flames. Hamilton ejected shortly before the plane hit the ground.
Hamilton, a retired U.S. Air Force pilot, was working for military contractor Draken International.
The Mirage F1 is a supersonic, single-engine all-weather fighter that can also perform ground attack and reconnaissance roles. It was designed in the late 1960s and saw service in the French air force before being retired in the mid-2010s. Other nations also operated the jet.
ATAC bought 63 retired French F1 jets and took possession of the last one in 2019, according to a posting on the company's Facebook page.
Another crash of a military contractor aircraft happened in 2015 in southern Arizona, killing Marine Lance Cpl. Anthony T. DuBeau. The 23-year-old from Kenosha, Wisconsin, was in a pickup truck providing safety oversight for a construction crew working alongside the runway at Marine Corps Air Station-Yuma.
A final National Transportation Safety Board report said the pilot of the BAE Systems Hawk jet took off at too low a speed on March 11, 2015. The British-built jet flying on a mission for the Air Force wobbled, veered off the left side of the base runway and eventually hit the pickup.