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One pilot dead, another injured in the fifth T-38 Talon crash in a year

A T-38 Talon flies near Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas, May 18, 2018. The T-38 is one of three aircraft flown during Undergraduate Pilot Training.

MOSHE PAUL/U.S. AIR FORCE

By COREY DICKSTEIN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: November 13, 2018

WASHINGTON — One pilot was killed and another was hospitalized when their T-38C Talon crashed late Tuesday at Laughlin Air Force Base in Texas, service officials said. It was the fifth crash of the training jet in the last 12 months.

The aircraft, which is used for training student pilots to fly fighter or bomber jets, crashed about 7:40 p.m. local time on the south Texas base just outside Del Rio, according to a statement posted on Laughlin’s Facebook page. The names of the pilots involved in the crash were not released, pending next of kin notification. An Air Force spokesman at Laughlin declined Wednesday to provide a condition of the hospitalized pilot, who was taken to Val Verde Regional Medical Center in Del Rio after the jet went down.

The spokesman said he did not know whether the base would suspend flight operations at Laughlin following the deadly crash. Officials had begun an investigation into the incident Wednesday, he said.

The crash came just weeks after the Air Force removed three of the top commanders at Laughlin, citing concerns about dangerous and threatening behavior at the major pilot training installation, the service’s Air Education and Training Command announced Oct. 31.

The commander of the 47th Flying Training Wing, Col. Charles Velino, was fired by Lt. Gen. Steven Kwast, the AETC chief. The commanders of the wing’s operations group and a flight training squadron were also removed by Kwast, who cited “chronic leadership failures” found in an investigation into widespread officer misconduct within the unit.

That investigation found instances of heavy drinking and improper treatment of some student pilots that created a toxic command climate. A new commander, Col. Lee Gentile, has since taken the reins of the 47th Flying Training Wing.

The crash is the second fatal crash of a T-38 at Laughlin in 12 months, coming almost one year after Air Force Capt. Paul J. Barbour was killed and Capt. Joshua Hammervold was injured when their jet experienced total hydraulic failure, according to an investigation into the wreck.

The other T-38 crashes in the last 12 months occurred in 2018 at other locations and the pilots survived.

On Sept. 11, a T-38C aircraft crashed shortly after takeoff from Sheppard Air Force Base near Wichita Falls, Texas.

On Aug. 17, a T-38 crashed near Vance Air Force Base in Oklahoma. The pilot ejected before the crash.

On May 23, two pilots ejected safely from a T-38 before it crashed in the vicinity of Columbus Air Force Base in Mississippi.

The Northrop Grumman-built T-38 were the world’s first supersonic training jet, first produced in 1961. The twin-seat jets have been used to train more than 72,000 military pilots to fly combat jet aircraft. They are due to be replaced in the coming decades.

Boeing was awarded a $9.2 billion contract in September to build T-X aircraft to replace the Air Force's T-38C Talons. The contract calls for 350 of the new trainer jets to be ready for full operational deployment by 2034.

dickstein.corey@stripes.com
Twitter: @CDicksteinDC

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