No Grounding for T-38 Fleet After 5th Crash in 12 Months, Air Force Says

Two T-38C Talons from the 25th Flying Training Squadron taxi on the flightline after a flight Feb. 1, 2018, at Vance Air Force Base, Oklahoma. (U.S. Air Force/Senior Airman Corey Pettis)
Two T-38C Talons from the 25th Flying Training Squadron taxi on the flightline after a flight Feb. 1, 2018, at Vance Air Force Base, Oklahoma. (U.S. Air Force/Senior Airman Corey Pettis)

The U.S. Air Force has not paused flights for its T-38 Talon trainer fleet despite a series of crashes in the last 12 months, two of which were fatal, officials told Military.com on Monday.

"The T-38 fleet is not grounded," Air Education and Training Command spokeswoman Jennifer Gonzalez said in an email.

She did not say whether additional action is planned for the fleet in coming days or weeks in light of the recent crashes.

Last week, an Air Force T-38 Talon went down at 7:40 p.m. local time at Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas.

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Capt. John F. Graziano, 28, an instructor pilot with the 87th Flying Training Squadron, was killed in the crash. Capt. Mark S. Palyok, also an instructor pilot with the unit, was injured in the crash. Palyok was transported to Val Verde Regional Medical Center in Texas, where he was treated for his injuries and later released.

The Nov. 13 crash follows four previous crashes involving T-38s in the last year, including another deadly mishap:

When asked if AETC had observed any similarities between the accidents, Gonzalez said each case was unique.

"AETC is committed to using the lessons learned from the results of any investigation to prevent similar accidents from happening again across the 19th Air Force fleet," she said. "Aviation is inherently risky and, unfortunately, accidents will occur. The T-38C is a reliable aircraft, and 19th Air Force prioritizes aircrew training and maintenance to keep the T-38C fleet operational."

The 19th Air Force, headquartered at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, is responsible for the training of aircrews, remotely piloted aircraft crews, air battle managers, and other aviation and combat specialists in the service.

It's not uncommon for the Air Force to look at each case independently before exploring possible links between incidents, a former general told Military.com during an interview in August.

"I think every aviation accident is independent and has to be looked upon [at] face value," said retired Gen. Herbert "Hawk" Carlisle, an F-15 Eagle pilot who led Air Combat Command between 2014 and 2017.

In May, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein directed wing commanders to hold a one-day pause to conduct a safety review with airmen, assessing trends and risk factors that may have led to a recent bout of crashes. The pause followed an in-depth report from the Military Times in April, which showed that military aviation accidents across the services had increased between fiscal years 2013 and 2017.

While rates for lower-grade mishaps had risen for the Air Force, service data at the time showed that Class-A mishaps -- defined as involving fatalities, severe damage totaling $2 million or more, or a complete loss of the aircraft -- had declined in recent years.

Officials including Gen. Ellen Pawlikowski, then-head of Air Force Materiel Command who retired in September, said while she didn't believe the Air Force was in the midst of an aviation crisis, the spike in accidents since January had gotten the service's attention.

"We don't consider it a crisis, but we have elevated interest in making sure that we aren't missing anything," she said in May. "Safety is always first."

The latest Talon trainer crash comes as the Air Force prepares to receive new trainer jets to replace its current Northrop Grumman-made T-38s. In September, the service awarded Boeing Co. a $9.2 billion contract to build its next aircraft for training future pilots, known as the T-X program.

The first T-X aircraft and simulators are scheduled to arrive at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph in 2023.

Until then, "the T-38C will continue to be utilized in service until well into the 2030s," Gonzalez said Monday.

"The T-38C is a workhorse that first entered service in 1961 and has trained more than 71,000 U.S. and allied pilots," she added.

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

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