A Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training program pilot in the back seat of a T-6A Texan II at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas, in January 2019.

A Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training program pilot in the back seat of a T-6A Texan II at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas, in January 2019. (John Ingle/U.S. Air Force)

AUSTIN, Texas — An instructor pilot died Tuesday morning from injuries caused by an aircraft ejection seat activating on the ground at Sheppard Air Force Base in Texas, service officials said.

Air Force Capt. John Robertson, a pilot with the 80th Operations Support Squadron, was inside a T-6A Texan II at the time of the accident and sustained serious injuries, base officials said. A student pilot was in the aircraft’s second seat and did not eject or sustain injuries, said George Woodward, a spokesman for the base.

Robertson’s family was at his side when he died at United Regional Hospital, officials said.

“We are thankful for the [contactor] maintenance team who immediately provided live-sustaining care, and for the heroic efforts of the security forces, fire and medical personnel here on base and at United Regional Hospital. Their efforts allowed time for Capt. Robertson’s family to be at his side when he passed,” said Col. Mitchell J. Cok, the acting wing commander. “This is a devastating loss for Capt. Robertson’s family and loved ones, and for the entire 80th Flying Training Wing.”

An interim safety board investigation was convened immediately following the incident, and an Air Force Safety Investigation Board is expected to be in place later this week, base officials said. The board will release its report when the investigation is complete.

The T-6A Texan II is a fixed-wing training aircraft with two seats. It is the primary trainer for student pilots learning basic flying skills.

The Air Force in 2022 sidelined roughly 40% of its combat training and primary training aircraft to review the safety of a potentially defective ejection seat part — specifically a cartridge-actuated device that actives when aviators pull the ejection handle or deploy a parachute.

The Navy and Marine Corps replaced the part in its fleets after the manufacturer Martin-Baker contacted the Navy about the potential defect.

Sheppard Air Force Base is in Wichita Falls near the Texas border with Oklahoma, and its training wing is the largest technical training wing in the Air Force. It’s also home to the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Program, which trains combat pilots for 14 NATO countries in a 55-week course.

More than 60,000 people graduate from basic and advanced courses at Sheppard each year.

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Rose L. Thayer is based in Austin, Texas, and she has been covering the western region of the continental U.S. for Stars and Stripes since 2018. Before that she was a reporter for Killeen Daily Herald and a freelance journalist for publications including The Alcalde, Texas Highways and the Austin American-Statesman. She is the spouse of an Army veteran and a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in journalism. Her awards include a 2021 Society of Professional Journalists Washington Dateline Award and an Honorable Mention from the Military Reporters and Editors Association for her coverage of crime at Fort Hood.

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