The Time a Fighter Plane Flew So Fast, It Shot Itself Down

It was 1956. A new fighter, the F-11 Tiger, from the Grumman aircraft corporation, was being tested off the coast, an exercise that included the use of live ammunition. The pilot of the F-11 fired a long burst from the aircraft’s guns and then, just a moment later, the windshield suddenly caved in, and the engine began to fail.

Exactly what had caused the damage wasn’t immediately known, and the pilot had assumed he had hit a bird as the engine went out. However, what had actually happened is the F-11 pilot had managed to shoot himself down.

As reported by Popular Mechanics, the F-11 Tiger was a nimble aircraft capable of supersonic speeds. It was Grumman’s first attempt at a supersonic fighter jet and only the second one that entered the US Navy’s inventory. The F-11 could reach Mach 1.1, or a speed of 843 mph.

The events that led to the pilot shooting himself began when he, while flying off the coast of Long Island, dropped the nose of the F-11 twenty degrees, directing the fighter towards an empty spot in the Atlantic ocean. He fired a four-second burst from the four Colt Mk.12 20-millimeter cannons, started a deeper descent, and then hit the afterburners.

Just a minute later, the windshield caved in, and the engine began emitting strange noises. The pilot attempted to return to Grumman’s airfield, but the engine gave out, and he crashed, totaling the aircraft and sustaining severe injuries.

An investigation into the accident determined that, due to his fast descent, the F-11 test pilot managed to catch up to the rounds he had previously fired, as they were slowing due to drag and the Tiger was accelerating during the descent.

Though he was seriously injured in the crash, the pilot was able to fly again in less than six months.

The US Navy purchased only 200 F-11 Tigers and decided to withdraw them from service when more advanced aircraft, like the F-8 Crusader and F-4 Phantom II, became available. The US Blue Angels, a military flight demonstration team, used F-11 in performances until 1969.