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Widow of F-16 Pilot Blames His Death on Counterfeit Parts

David Schmitz's ejection seat failed in 2020
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 15, 2022 11:07 AM CDT
Widow of F-16 Pilot Blames His Death on Counterfeit Parts
File photo of an F-16 Fighting Falcon.   (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

F-16 pilot David Schmitz was killed in June 2020 when his nighttime landing at a South Carolina base went wrong. Now the 32-year-old's widow has filed a federal lawsuit blaming counterfeit parts in his ejection seat for causing his death, reports the Air Force Times. Valerie Schmitz has sued defense contractor Lockheed Martin, Collins Aerospace (which builds ejection seat systems), and Teledyne Technologies (which makes what's known as the digital recovery sequencer for those systems), per Schmitz might have survived his Fighting Falcon crash, but the parachute on his ejection seat never deployed.

Using Freedom of Information requests, Valerie Schmitz and her legal team determined that the Air Force suspected some of the electronics in the system were counterfeit and of shoddy quality, though the military didn't reveal that in its public account of the crash. For example, six transistors "had no conformal coating, were heavily gouged, had arcing scratch marks, were considered obsolete and were suspected of being counterfeit," per the lawsuit. The Air Force lab that conducted the investigation also uncovered evidence that Teledyne destroyed evidence by replacing five microchips on the sequencer sent to the lab, according to the lawsuit.

"What the military does is inherently dangerous to begin with," attorney Jim Brauchle, who's representing Valerie Schmitz, tells the Air Force Times. "If you're going to be engaging in that kind of activity, you want to be doing it with equipment that's going to work." Neither the Air Force nor Teledyne and the others named in the lawsuit have publicly responded to the allegations. It remains unclear whether the Air Force ultimately determined that the suspected counterfeit parts were, in fact, counterfeit. (More F-16 stories.)

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