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[In Memory of a fallen pilot.()]

Aircraft Losses

Capt. Kenneth W. "Buck" Levens (USAF)
Bandit #461 (December 16, 1994)
Killed May 10th, 1995
F-117A #85-0822
Cause: Spatial Disorientation possibly caused by autopilot failure

[] Capt. Kenneth W. "Buck" Levens (age 36) of Stamford, TX was killed in F-117A #85-822 on May 10th,1995 while on a routine training flight. Levens was a senior pilot assigned to the 9th FS with over 2,400 hours of total flying time in the T-37, T-38, F-16, and F-117A. He left behind wife Cathy, daughter Jacie, and son Kennenth.

Capt. Levens was on a routine training mission when at 10:25 p.m F-117A #822 crashed and exploded 7 miles south of Zuni, New Mexico on the Zuni Indian reservation inhabited by the Zuni Pueblo Tribe. The aircraft slammed into the foothills traveling at 644 mph causing a 20 foot deep, 25-foot-wide crater after taking off from Holloman AFB. The aircraft impacted at about a 60-degree nose down attitude.

As military and civilian authorities secured the site, explosive-ordnance teams combed the wreckage to remove two training bombs. Although Levens crashed at around 10:25 p.m. a team of about 40 Air Force officials from Kirtland did not arrive at the site until several hours later because of the location. The wreckage was smoldering when officials, including security police and the ordnance-disposal specialists, arrived. One report puts this arrival at 8:30 AM the next morning. The AF team included EOD, Medical, Legal, Environmental, Transportation, Civil Engineer, Security Police, and Public Affairs personnel.

An account of the post crash operations were highlighted in the June 1996 issue of Air Safety Magazine. The article below describes the HAMMER ACE communications system:

""Within hours of an F-117 crash in the New Mexico desert, Hammer ACE was notified, and a three-man communications team was en route via C-21 Leer Jet. Landing at Kirtland AFB, New Mexico, the team offloaded their 16 suitcases (about 640 pounds) of communications gear to a waiting chopper. Hammer ACE arrived at the crash site, an area accessible only by helicopter and dirt trails, where 'organized chaos' was the order of the day. The on-scene commander, because of a communications blackout, could not receive or transmit vital information needed for recovery operations.
Upon Hammer ACE's arrival, the on-scene commander was briefed on the team's communication capabilities and a communications plan was set into motion. Electrical power was a major concern, as neither commercial nor generator power was available. The Hammer ACE team's first priority was to set up a power supply network consisting of solar panel power supplies, lithium batteries, and a DC to AC inverter connected to a vehicle battery. Within 20 minutes, a command post was established in the back of a Chevrolet Blazer with two International Maritime Satellite (INMARSAT) terminals, one half-duplex secure UHF Tactical satellite radio (UHF SATCOM) with a backup, and ground-to-air communications. With the "Hammer Zone' established, the on-scene commander had worldwide connectivity, ending the communications blackout.
The remainder of the first day was a blur of UHF SATCOM phone patches and INMARSAT phone calls to the base and other agencies that ended when darkness forced the on-scene commander to halt operations for the day. By day two, equipment was under generator power, and the command post transferred to a general purpose medium tent. For the next 11 days and through a snowstorm that quickly melted leaving the ground a mud slick, Hammer ACE provided INMARSAT, UHF SATCOM phone patch, secure fax, network access, secure Land Mobile Radio, and ground-to-air communications to the helicopters coming and going from the site. Hard-won experience and preparation paid off - the Hammer Ace team established reliable, secure communications which allowed the recovery team to complete their mission successfully."
[F-117A #822 at 1993 March AFB Air Show. (Webmaster's personal collection)]

The bulk of the wreckage was removed in large wooden crates on two flatbed trucks on 31 May. One crate fell off a truck, two miles NE of the site, and heavy equipment was called in to lift it back into place. Armed security personnel were still in place at the site, even after the crates had been removed.

The crash report said the aircraft was functioning normally (although there is a report of a failure in the auto-pilot system earlier in the flight) and there was no reason Levens would have intentionally crashed. Some reports say that it was the fault in the automatic pilot system that disoriented the pilot. That scenario is that the automatic pilot failed to follow the preplanned route. Levens probably did not notice right away that the autopilot had failed and when he did, he most likely over-banked the aircraft. He did not immediately use his cockpit instruments to level the aircraft because he probably was substantially disoriented.

[F-117A #822 at 1993 March AFB Air Show. (Webmaster's personal collection)]

However, Lt. Col. Steven Barach wrote in the report "These circumstances argue very strongly in favor of the notion that the [pilot] became spatially disoriented and did not recognize when his aircraft entered an altitude from which recovery" was impossible. Again, like Maj. Sterwart and Maj. Mulhare, Capt. Levens had limited time in the F-117A-70.0 hours. Once again, he was not over the 100 hour mark. All three fatal crashes involved pilots with less than 100 hours of time flying the F-117A.

[The dedication of the memorial to Capt. Levens. (Sunburst)]

On May 21, 1998 a memorial was dedicated to Capt. Kenneth "Buck" Levens at Holloman AFB. The memorial consists of a pedestal with a plaque commemorating Capt. Kenneth "Buck" Levens, above which is a sculpted F-117A in flight. The plaque was designed by Holloman base historian Staff Sgt. Greg Henneman.

[.(Holloman Sunburst]

The following article was published in the Friday, May 29, 1998 issue of the "Sunburst"-the base newspaper of Holloman Air Force Base. Below is the article in it's entirety:

By Senior Airman David Libby
49th Fighter Wing Historian

[Kenneth Levens Jr.(Holloman Sunburst]"Team Holloman members and local community representatives gathered here May 21 to honor American military members who gave their lives in war, and in preparing for war.
Brig. Gen. Dennis Larsen, 49th Fighter Wing commander, addressed base and community members during a memorial ceremony held in front of the 49th fighter Wing headquarters.
[.(Holloman Sunburst] "Today, for Memorial Day, we honor all American warriors who have given their lives. We also honor Air Force members and fighting Forty-Niners who paid the ultimate price," Larsen said. In addition to the Memorial Day ceremony, a plaque and the F-117A model, located in front of 49th Fighter Wing headquarters, were dedicated to Capt. Kennenth "Buck" Levens, the only Stealth pilot to be killed while serving Holloman.
Levens was a senior pilot with over 2,400 hours of total flying time in the T-37, T-38, F-16, and F-117A. He was killed when his F-117A crashed during a routine training mission near Zuni, N.M.
[.(Holloman Sunburst] Levens wife Cathy, daughter Jacie, and son Kennenth attended the ceremony which ended with a 21-gun salute, the playing of Taps, the presentation of two U.S. flags to Levens' son and daughter, and an F-117A flyby.""

The Holloman Officers Wives Club sponsors several scholarships for dependent children and spouses of active duty, retired POW/MIA or deceased military members. Branches of service eligible include Air Force, Army, Navy and Marines. The Capt. Kenneth Levens Memorial Scholarship is a $1,000 scholarship awarded to a spouse or dependent child.

[F-117A #822 at 1993 March AFB Air Show. (Webmaster's personal collection)]

Holloman AFB public affairs sent the webmaster upon request the original Sunburst issue cited above after the online version had been deleted due to disk storage space considerations. The webmaster would like to thank the Sunburst staff and Holloman AFB public affairs for their assistance.

Active Duty

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