Crashed MiG-23 pilot was not ready to eject: NTSB

The pilot flying was not ready to eject at the time when the pilot observer initiated the ejection sequence, according to the NTSB

The United States National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released a preliminary report on the MiG-23 crash at the Thunder over Michigan Airshow, stating that the pilot flying the fighter jet was not ready to eject before it crashed.

The pilot and pilot-rated observer were flying the MiG-23 fighter jet under Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) during an airshow exhibition flight at the airshow near Belleville, Michigan, the US, on August 13, 2023.

According to the pilot, after their departure from runway 23 at Willow Run Airport (YIP) and a right turn to perform a “banana pass”, a low-level knife-edge pass, along the same runway, he noticed that the MiG-23’s afterburner did not ignite as he attempted to bank the aircraft.

Subsequently, the pilot said that the fighter jet’s airspeed had been decreasing, with the pilot then bringing the swing wings into a fully forward position with a 16° sweep to try to increase the lift as he began troubleshooting the issue.

“He was actively troubleshooting when the rear seat observer stated that they needed to eject,” the NTSB noted in its report, adding that the front-seat pilot was “not ready to eject”.

However, as he was trying to align an approach on runway 27 at YIP, the pilot observer initiated the ejection sequence, resulting in them both being ejected from the aircraft.

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The pilot observer said that the pair had a discussion over the issue and began climbing to gain altitude. After concluding that they had an engine issue and deciding to get back on the ground, the pilot observer told the NTSB that “they determined they did not have sufficient altitude to make it to a runway at the airport”.

Furthermore, he said that the crew was “compressed for time and needed to get out”.

“When asked if he had pulled the ejection seat handles, he stated that he could not specifically remember but thinks that he would have pulled them,” the NTSB report continued.

Citing video evidence, the NTSB said that the “airplane was in a left bank when the ejection seats fired”. Continuing to fly in the banking maneuver, the MiG-23 eventually crashed about 1 mile (1.6 kilometers) to the south of the approach end of runway 27 at YIP, resulting in a post-impact explosion and fire.

While there were no injuries on the ground, the NTSB noted that the pilot and pilot observer had sustained two minor injuries.

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