Fuel exhaustion Accident General Atomics MQ-9A Reaper 08-4051, Wednesday 24 June 2020
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Date:Wednesday 24 June 2020
Time:09:33 UTC
Type:Silhouette image of generic Q9 model; specific model in this crash may look slightly different    
General Atomics MQ-9A Reaper
Owner/operator:US Air Force (USAF)
Registration: 08-4051
Fatalities:Fatalities: 0 / Occupants: 0
Other fatalities:0
Aircraft damage: Destroyed
Location:Africa -
Departure airport:
Destination airport:
Investigating agency: USAF AIB
Confidence Rating: Accident investigation report completed and information captured
The aircraft, an MQ-9A, crashed in an undisclosed location within the United States Africa Command (US AFRICOM) Area of Responsibility (AOR).
Assigned to the 162d Wing, Arizona Air National Guard, the MA was operated by the 214th Attack Squadron Mission Control Element (MCE) located at Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona, at the time of the mishap. The location of the crashed MA was confirmed, but the wreckage was not recovered.
At approximately 0640Z, the Mishap Ground Control Station (MGCS) started to display warnings that the fuel level in the header tank was low. The pilot and sensor operator began to accomplish procedures to clear this fault. Soon thereafter, the pilot noted through fuel calculations that the measured fuel was well short of expected levels. The pilot enlisted the assistance of the mission crew commander to help diagnose the problem. As the pilot and mission crew commander worked the problem, the sensor operator used the primary camera to visually sweep the aircraft. During that sweep, the sensor operator found that the aircraft was severely leaking fuel from the fuselage. At 0723Z, the crew started to return to base at maximum airspeed. Without knowing exactly where in the fuel system the leak was occurring, the pilot concluded that if the leak was not affecting the aft tank and header tank, then a safe recovery was theoretically possible. After further analysis, the crew realized that the fuel leak was catastrophic. The pilot and mission crew commander, coordinating with Combined Air Operations Center (CAOC) Remotely Piloted Aircraft Liaison Officer (RPA LNO), started to plan to crash the aircraft. The CAOC directed mission crew commander and pilot to crash the aircraft, and to do so in a way that would minimize chances of a successful recovery effort.
Fuel exhausted at 0914Z. The pilot then controlled the glide of the aircraft to optimize the impact point. As the aircraft lost altitude, the pilot increased the airspeed of the MA through the crash, which occurred at 0933Z.
The Abbreviated Accident Investigation Board (AAIB) President found, by a preponderance of the evidence, the cause of the mishap was a fuel leak from the Forward Electric Fuel Heater that caused fuel exhaustion before the aircraft could be safely returned to the Launch and Recovery Element. Further, the AAIB President found, by a preponderance of the evidence, that each of the following factors substantially contributed to the mishap; (1) Delinquent Time Compliance Technical Order (TCTO) to correct a known MQ-9 deficiency (2) the design of the fuel leak detection system, and (3) lack of guidance and tolerances for the MQ-9 fuel system.

Accident investigation:
Investigating agency: USAF AIB
Report number: 
Status: Investigation completed
Duration: 11 months
Download report: Final report



Revision history:

05-Jun-2021 09:46 harro Added
05-Jun-2021 09:47 harro Updated

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