The F-16 National Guard pilot is flying level at 60,000 feet. Below he can see the raging dust storm.
“Albuquerque Center looks like Phoenix is about to get clobbered good from that huge dust storm I’ve been watching for the last twenty minutes,” says the pilot of the AZ Guard F-16 jet.
“Yeah, AZ Guard F-16, the weather radar has it moving at 25 knots directly up I-10,” replies Albuquerque Center flight controller.
“Nice to be way up here where it’s smooth and clear!” As the pilot spoke he noticed the Sun becoming obscure. Slowing at first, then more rapidly. “Albuquerque Center, AZ Guard F-16, maybe I spoke too soon. Looks like that dust storm is higher than I thought!”
“Not possible, Guard. Those storms are big but can’t reach FL 600.”
“Well it’s starting to get really dusty up here.”
“AZ Guard F-16, say again, your transmission is garbled!” “Al….Cent…going…t..ight lev…seven zero zero.”
The pilot pulls the stick back and engages the afterburners. He accelerates upward only to see the Sun totally obscured. The dust is drawn into the engine and it stops functioning. The pilot uses the plane’s forward motion to continue in an arch and now heads toward the ground. He cannot see anything outside of the cockpit. His engine has failed; his auxiliary power unit has failed. He is in a controlled fall toward the desert below. He must not exceed the maximum velocity of the airframe or else he will break up in flight. He has no idea how fast he is going because the pitot tube airspeed indicator is clogged with dust. The barometric altimeter is still indicating his fast descent and the turn and bank indicator is still working. He has to do something fast and at 10,000 feet he pulls back on the stick in an attempt to level out. With his hand on the ejection handle the plane abruptly seems to stop. It is an illusion. He pulls the ejection handle and with a thundering crash the seat is propelled upward through the canopy, knocking the pilot unconscious. Upward through the dust, he moves away from the plane. Without any control the jet tumbles end over end as it continues its downward plunge. Seconds later a flash of light followed by a deafening roar is heard at the Gila Bend airport.
“Wow, that storm is getting close,” Santos said to his dog lying indifferently next to the radio bench, “that was some thunder bolt, boy!”
The dust storm continued toward Phoenix masking the crater left by the impacting F-16 as it crashed into the desert of the Barry M. Goldwater Range.