Air Force Grounds Hundreds of Utility Aircraft as it Investigates Faulty Tail Part

U.S. Air Force RC-135 Rivet Joint aircraft refueled by RAF KC-135 Stratotanker.
A U.S. Air Force RC-135 Rivet Joint aircraft is refueled by a Royal Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker, while a Norwegian air force F-35 Lightning aircraft flies alongside during a mission in 2022. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Hundreds of the Air Force's workhorse aircraft are being grounded as the service investigates a faulty part which, if not fixed, could potentially cause part of a plane's tail to fall off leading to a crash.

Faulty tail pins -- which were allegedly made of the wrong material and are undersized -- are suspected to have been put on hundreds of aircraft sometime between June 2020 and December 2022, according to a screenshot of a memo posted Feb. 9 to the unofficial Air Force amn/nco/snco Facebook page, a social media page where airmen often share information about their duty stations.

The memo says "should one pin fail, the other would not be able to carry the remaining load and the vertical stabilizer would depart the aircraft."

Read Next: Mississippi Lawmakers Want to Keep Aging T-1A Training Jet in Service

Brian Brackens, a spokesman for the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, confirmed to on Thursday that the memo featured in the Facebook screenshot is authentic.

Air Force Materiel Command, which does logistics support for the service, said in a press release Wednesday that flight operations were being stopped for KC-135 Stratotanker refueling planes, RC-135 Rivet Joint reconnaissance planes and WC-135 Constant Phoenix radiation detecting jets as it investigates their tail pins. The stand-down encompasses more than 400 aircraft in total, according to service fact sheets about the planes.

"We're taking this action out of an abundance of caution, after consulting with our engineering experts," Col. Michael Kovalchek, senior materiel leader with the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center's Legacy Tanker Division, said in the press release. "We are working closely with Air Mobility Command and all operational users and anticipate all potentially affected aircraft will be inspected."

A one-time inspection order, which requires replacement of a faulty tail pin prior to an aircraft’s next flight, was issued Tuesday, according to the press release.

As of Feb. 12, two days prior to the formal inspection order, 90 aircraft had been inspected, and 24 were found to have the faulty pins.

"Although no mishaps have resulted, leaders elected to accelerate the inspection due to a lack of information to assess the risk of materiel failure in non-conforming parts," Air Force Materiel Command said in the press release.

The tail-pin inspection takes about 30-minutes. If a faulty pin is found, aircraft "will be authorized a one-time flight to a repair location" to have it replaced, the command wrote. Most of that work will be done at the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Complex. The repair typically takes less than a day, according to Air Force Material Command.

The issue with the tail pin marks the latest mechanical parts issue with the Air Force's aircraft.

Earlier this month, an unknown number of V-22 Osprey aircraft across the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps were being grounded as the services grapple with a gearbox issue that has led to several incidents of engine trouble.

-- Thomas Novelly can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @TomNovelly.

Related: Military Grounds Some Ospreys While a 'Complete Redesign' Is Underway on Troubled Clutch System

Story Continues