Air Force says pilots were at fault for fatal T-38C training collision in Oklahoma
By JAMES BOLINGER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 2, 2020
The Air Force said pilot error is to blame for a collision that killed two T-38C Talon pilots in Oklahoma on Nov. 21, according to an accident investigation report released Friday.
The morning crash happened when two Talons — one of which was flown by instructor pilot Lt. Col. John “Matt” Kincade, 47, and student pilot 2nd Lt. Travis B. Wilkie, 23 — attempted a formation landing while training at Vance Air Force Base.
Immediately after touchdown, the leading aircraft piloted by Wilkie and Kincade “became briefly airborne, rolled rapidly to the right, then touched down once more in a right bank,” the report said. It then skidded across the runway’s centerline from left to right toward the other aircraft, which was trailing.
The leading aircraft lifted off the runway once again and then struck the trailing aircraft with its right main landing gear, according to the report. The collision caused the leading jet to roll over the top of the other, “then impact the ground in a nearly inverted attitude, fatally injuring [Kincade] and [Wilkie].”
The T-38C flown by Kincade and Wilkie then slid approximately 700 feet before coming to a stop in a grassy area, the report said. The trailing jet remained upright as it departed the runway surface and came to a stop in the grass, where its pilots safely exited the aircraft.
The accident board found that the leading aircraft, under the control of Wilkie, “prematurely initiated an aerodynamic braking maneuver immediately after touchdown,” according to the report. The maneuver involves the pilot raising the aircraft’s nose to block airflow and slow the jet to speed at which mechanical brakes can be applied.
The premature aerobrake caused the T-38C to become briefly airborne, the report said. Wilkie then simultaneously applied and held the right rudder to steer the aircraft away from the left edge of the runway.
“[Wilkie’s] use of rudder under these conditions — airborne, configured for landing and at an increased angle of attack — caused [the leading T-38C) to roll and yaw to the right and placed [it] on a collision course with [the trailing aircraft],” the report said.
Though Kincade could not have prevented the collision after Wilkie used the rudder, he should have intervened beforehand, according to the report.
Brig. Gen. Evan Pettus, the accident board’s president, found that Kincade failed to take control of the jet “as a precarious situation developed” and that Wilkie subsequently made “an inappropriate flight control input,” the report said.
Pettus also found that Wilkie was overly focused on his wingman and did not adequately cross-check his runway alignment before ouching down, according to the report.
Kincade was assigned to Vance’s 5th Flying Squadron. Wilkie was with the base’s 25th Flying Wing.