Head of Air Combat Command to Visit Flying Wings After Series of Crashes

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F-16 Fighting Falcons from Luke Air Force Base
F-16 Fighting Falcons from Luke Air Force Base, Ariz. taxi toward the hangars after arriving at Holloman Air Force Base, N.M., June 16, 2015. (U.S. Air Force photo/Emily Kenney)

The U.S. Air Force general in charge of the combat air force is visiting flying wings across the country to discuss safety and training practices following a series of jet crashes in recent weeks.

Gen. Mike Holmes, head of Air Combat Command, on Wednesday began the first in a series of meetings with airmen, which will include a probe into both historical and current data that may reveal a common trend among the incidents, according to spokeswoman Leah Garton.

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"The recent incidents involve multiple aircraft types from multiple commands," Garton said in an email Wednesday. "ACC has also distributed updated guidance and safety information to all of our flying units."

She added that Holmes has begun discussing the recent crashes with other major command counterparts. The meetings will continue through next week, Garton said.

Holmes' inquiry follows the fifth crash involving an Air Force fighter jet since May.

On Monday, an F-16 Fighting Falcon pilot landing at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, ejected safely before the jet crashed at the base. The pilot was treated for minor injuries, the 49th Wing said.

The wing ordered a temporary stand-down of local flying operations the following day "to ensure the safety of the airfield and the wellness of the aircrew," officials said in a release.

"There are no indications of any fleet-wide issues. Normal flying operations have resumed fully as of [Wednesday]," the wing said.

Separately, 1st Lt. David Schmitz, of 77th Fighter Squadron at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, was killed while flying a F-16CM during a routine training mission June 30. The cause of that crash is under investigation.

1st Lt. Kenneth "Kage" Allen died when his F-15C Eagle crashed off the coast of Great Britain during a routine training mission June 15. Allen was part of the 493rd Fighter Squadron, 48th Fighter Wing, at RAF Lakenheath, England.

An F-35A Joint Strike Fighter, assigned to the 58th Fighter Squadron of the 33rd Fighter Wing, crashed May 19 upon landing at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. The pilot successfully ejected. Days earlier, an F-22 Raptor crashed during a routine training flight near Eglin. That pilot was also able to eject.

Separate investigations have been launched into each incident, officials have said.

The Air Force saw a spike in aviation mishaps in fiscal 2018, which prompted reviews across major commands and even a "one-day pause" in operations to conduct a safety review. Manned aviation Class A mishaps had increased 48 percent as of May 2, 2018, over the previous fiscal year, according to Air Force data.

The service had lost 18 service members as of that May, including nine WC-130 aircrew in a fatal crash outside Savannah, Georgia.

The Air Force recorded 30 aviation Class A mishaps -- or accidents involving fatalities, severe damage totaling $2 million or more, or a complete loss of the aircraft -- 19 deaths and 12 destroyed aircraft overall that year.

By comparison, the service saw 17 fewer fatalities and half as many destroyed aircraft in 2019.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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