The Air Force has confirmed that an American pilot from the California Air National Guard was killed during a familiarization flight with a Ukrainian pilot in a Su-27UB fighter aircraft on October 16 during the Clear Skies 2018 exercise, an event orchestrated to allow Ukraine to better incorporate its forces with eight NATO militaries.
The Air Force said in a statement:
The U.S. service member involved in the crash was a member of the 144th Fighter Wing, California Air National Guard, Fresno, California. The Airman was taking part in a single-aircraft familiarization flight with a Ukrainian counterpart. No other aircraft were involved in the incident. The identity of the service member is being withheld for 24 hours pending next of kin notification.
The Ukrainian pilot was also killed in the crash.
“This is a sad day for the United States and Ukraine,” Maj. Gen. Clay Garrison, California ANG commander and Clear Skies exercise director, said in a statement. “Our deepest condolences go out to the family, friends, and fellow Airmen of both the U.S. Airman and Ukrainian aviator who were killed in the incident.”
A Su-27B aircraft flies during Open Skies 2018 in Ukraine.
(U.S. Air National Guard)
The aircraft crash took place at 5 p.m. local time in Ukraine, and appears to have involved a Su-27UB, a two-seater combat trainer/fighter jet. A statement from the Ukrainian General Staff gave the first indication of what had occurred.
“We regret to inform that, according to the rescue team, the bodies of two pilots have been discovered: one is a serviceman of the Ukrainian Air Force, the other is a member of the US National Guard,” it said.
The incident is currently under investigation.
The Air Force said before the exercise that it would send 450 personnel to the exercise with approximately 250 of them playing a direct role. These were mostly maintainers and pilots. Multiple state national guards are involved in the exercise, including those of California, Illinois, and Pennsylvania.
The exercise focused on air sovereignty, air interdiction, air-to-ground integration, air mobility operations, aeromedical evacuation, cyberdefense, and personnel recovery. It takes place as Ukraine is increasing its military capabilities and continuing hostilities from a Russian-backed separatist movement has claimed lives in its eastern regions.