A military aircraft crashed into the Nevada desert last week killing the pilot, but the U.S Air Force is keeping its lips sealed regarding most of the details of the incident.
According to a news release published a full three days after the fatal Sept. 5 crash, the horrible incident involved an unidentified Air Force aircraft assigned to the Air Force Materiel Command. The aircraft had been on a training mission on the Nevada Test and Training Range when it crashed approximately 100 miles north of Nellis Air Force Base, the release stated.
The pilot was identified as Lt. Col. Eric Schultz, and an investigation into the cause of the crash was launched. The Air Force promised to publish additional information about the incident as it became available.
However, that information hasn’t been forthcoming from the service, according to Military.com. The website which has pressed officials for more info, specifically regarding the type of aircraft involved, but have been stymied.
“Information about the type of aircraft involved is classified and not releasable,” Air Force Maj. Christina Sukach stated in an email. Sukach is the chief of public affairs for the 99 Air Base Wing at Nellis.
Also playing coy about the incident was Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein, who simply stated, “I can definitely say it was not an F-35,” when queried by a reporter, referring to the advanced F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
One aspect of the accident that has raised questions is the fact that the pilot was an accomplished flyer who logged more than 2,000 hours flying various advanced aircraft, including the F-35. He was also an accomplished academic, holding six different degrees that included a doctorate in aerospace engineering. In other words, not exactly a rookie prone to making mistakes.
Given the mysterious nature in which the Air Force has treated the incident, there has been some speculation about the unidentified aircraft that Schultz was piloting at the time of the crash. A few different theories have arisen, according to Popular Mechanics.
The first theory is that Schultz was flying an older F-117A stealth fighter, a jet which was officially retired in 2008 but is rumored to still be flying as a sort of test bed for new technologies that can be used on other aircraft. However, this possibility seems rather unlikely as Lockheed Martin, the designer and manufacturer of the F-117, only allows its own pilots to fly them.
Another, perhaps related, theory is that Schultz was piloting some new, yet to be revealed “black” aircraft that fills a secretive role in the military, such as a replacement for the F-117. The F-117 was just such a classified craft at one point, as was the much older SR-71 Blackbird reconnaissance aircraft of the Cold War-era.
However, a separate report from Popular Mechanics, citing sources quoted by Aviation Week, suggested the unidentified aircraft was actually a foreign military jet that was undergoing evaluation by the Air Force.
This is not at all unheard of, and though the specific unit that conducts such tests is not numbered or talked about much, it is known to be part of Detachment 3 of the 53rd Test and Evaluation Group, which is stationed in Nellis and falls under the Air Force Materiel Command.
Of course, such speculation remains unconfirmed. It’s also possible that Schultz was piloting a Russian-built fighter jet such as Mig-29 or Su-27, perhaps even one of Russia’s new advanced Su-30 multi-role fighters that had somehow been obtained by the U.S., either through a trade with allies who purchased it from Russia, through a defection of a Russian or Russia-allied pilot, or some other undisclosed under-the-table means.
That said, given the stunning similarity in the manner by which the Air Force has remained tight-lipped about the incident as compared with how it handled the infamous Roswell incident in the 1950s, there was definitely something going on at that Nevada test range that the government would rather the public — or perhaps more accurately, or nation’s rivals — not know about just yet.
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