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KC-10 Ground Emergency Under Investigation, Air Force Says

A row of de-iced U.S. Air Force KC-10 Extenders at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., March 3, 2018. (U.S. Air Force/Master Sgt. Mark C. Olsen)
A row of de-iced U.S. Air Force KC-10 Extenders at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., March 3, 2018. (U.S. Air Force/Master Sgt. Mark C. Olsen)

The U.S. Air Force is investigating why a KC-10 Extender refueling aircraft from Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst last month had an emergency on the ground, and why the plane's slide-rafts didn't deploy for the aircrew to quickly exit the aircraft.

Furthermore, the service is reducing some Space-A military travel flights on KC-10s out of the New Jersey base as well as Travis Air Force Base, California, as "a precautionary measure," Air Mobility Command spokesman Col. Chris Karns told Military.com in an email.

A KC-10 on May 20 "aborted takeoff due to smoke in the flight deck, causing the crew to evacuate the aircraft," Karns said.

Following the emergency, the slide-rafts failed to inflate. Why the cause of the failure has not been determined, it's now being investigated, he said.

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"McGuire conducted a slide-raft deployment confidence check on one of their aircraft, with both slides deploying correctly, which led the mobility enterprise to believe this could have been an isolated incident," Karns said.

However, he noted in a statement, further KC-10 slide-raft confidence checks turned up additional incidents.

"During additional slide-raft deployment attempts, two failed, so the enterprise decided to conduct a deeper evaluations to identify the specific cause of failure," the statement read. "The Legacy Tanker Program Office, as the KC-10 Operational Safety, Suitability, and Effectiveness (OSS&E) authority is leading the investigation to determine the root cause of the four slide-raft deployment failures."

In all, there were four failures, Karns said: two separate cases of the slides not deploying on the aircraft during the May 20 incident; one incident at Travis; and another involving a McGuire-based aircraft receiving depot maintenance in Greensboro, North Carolina.

As a result of the check failures, the investigation was accelerated and deepened, he said.

"The KC-10 remains operational and safe to fly. A stand-down will not occur, nor is it required because aircrew are trained on secondary egress techniques and can fly on the KC-10 with no additional risk," he added.

Karns said the service is also analyzing whether future Space-A travel will downsize in light of the emergency.

"We'll inform airmen, families and those eligible to fly Space-A immediately. The safety of aircrew and passengers is always the top priority," Karns said.

A recent post on the Facebook page Air Force Amn/Nco/Snco, which is popular within the service but isn't officially run by the Air Force, showed photos from the incident where the KC-10's siderafts -- used as a secondary egress method -- did not inflate for the crew to slide out.

Karns confirmed that the crew, from the 305th Air Mobility Wing, never left the flightline.

"In the instance of the KC-10 at McGuire, the aircrew experienced an emergency and attempted to deploy the slide-rafts on the ground," Karns said.

"Unfortunately, two of the aircraft's slide-rafts failed to inflate properly, so the crew had to egress via an alternate method."

Karns said the Air Force is confident the issue will not impact worldwide operations.

"When the incident occurred, immediate action was taken," he said, referring to work currently underway to assess whether the incident affects the singular or multiple aircraft.

The Air Force is now continuing to deploy the slide-rafts in a controlled environment to see how they inflate, and whether the root cause of the incident can be determined from these exercises, Karns said.

"In the small sample where the slide-raft did not deploy appropriately, the command will work with engineers to assess the situation to mitigate safety concerns and implement a solution," he said.

AMC is also using preliminary risk assessment data "to develop a flight crew information file that standardizes the acceptable configuration and operational procedures until a fix is delivered," Karns said.

The program office engineering team is presenting their findings to the chief engineer as early as next week.

The primary refueling mission of the KC-10 has not been affected, Karns said, and flights continue.

The ground emergency marks another in a series of recent incidents the Air Force has experienced in recent months. The service reported four emergency landings involving separate aircraft in the last four weeks.

During a routine training mission, a CV-22 Osprey from the 1st Special Operations Wing at Hurlburt Field, Florida, made "a precautionary landing" on June 4 near Ashland, Alabama, "out of an abundance of caution," officials told Military.com at the time. No injuries were reported.

Separately, two tankers had emergency landings, one stateside and one overseas.

A KC-10 landed at Shannon Airport in Ireland on June 3 after it reportedly suffered an engine malfunction over the Atlantic, according to local media reports.

A B-1 bomber from Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, experienced an in-flight emergency June 1 minutes after taking off from Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii. The incident preceded a fleet-wide stand-down which grounded the fleet over safety concerns related to the Lancer's ejection seats.

And a KC-135 Stratotanker made an emergency landing on May 30 after it was struck by lightning.

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

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