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Son of Northrop Test Pilot Is Ejected From Trainer Jet : Aviation: Firm investigates Mojave Desert incident in which teen-ager is slightly injured. The purpose of flight is not known.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Northrop Corp. is investigating an Oct. 10 incident in which the son of a company test pilot was ejected from a trainer jet during a highly unusual flight over the Mojave Desert, a company spokesman said Thursday.

The single-engine turboprop was piloted by Paul Metz, a longtime chief test pilot at Northrop, who had officially left the company’s employment the day before the mishap. Metz now works at Lockheed Corp.

During the flight, Brian Sandberg, the 17-year-old son of Northrop test pilot James Sandberg, was ejected in the parachute-equipped rear seat of the aircraft through its canopy. The incident was witnessed by his father, who was following in another jet.

After ejecting, the younger Sandberg landed several miles from the city of Mojave and was transported by helicopter to the Antelope Valley Medical Center in Lancaster. He was treated for a broken ankle and released, a hospital spokeswoman said.

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The speed and altitude of the jet were not known.

It could not be determined whether the younger Sandberg, of Leona Valley, pulled the plane’s ejection cord or the incident resulted from a malfunction. After the ejection, Metz returned the aircraft to Fox Airport near Lancaster.

A test pilot familiar with procedures in the aerospace industry said the incident must have involved “a serious error in judgment.”

The turboprop was built by Embraer, a Brazilian aircraft firm that is teamed with Northrop in a program to sell the trainer aircraft to the Pentagon.

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Mark Hale, Embraer’s manager for the trainer program, said the aircraft was under the joint control of Northrop and Embraer when Metz made the flight. Hale said details about the purpose of the flight and whether it was authorized are under investigation.

Northrop and Embraer have used two of the aircraft, known as Tucanos, for flight demonstrations at military bases around the United States in recent months. The demonstrations were nearly concluded and Embraer was preparing to return the aircraft to Brazil when the incident occurred.

Hale said he did not have an estimate of the cost to replace the canopy and seat. An aircraft industry expert said the repairs would cost thousands of dollars.


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