Air Force instructor, student pilot killed in T-38 crash at Vance Air Force Base
WASHINGTON — An Air Force instructor pilot who had previously served in the Navy and his young flight student were killed Thursday when their jet crashed while landing at Vance Air Force Base in Oklahoma, base officials announced Friday.
Lt. Col. John “Matt” Kincade and 2nd Lt. Travis B. Wilkie were piloting the supersonic T-38C Talon training aircraft that crashed in an incident that involved a second T-38 during a routine formation flight at Vance AFB. In formation flights, aircraft fly closely together in a synchronized manner.
Service officials said an investigation into the crash was launched Thursday within hours of the incident, but they did not provide information about what might have led to the crash.
Kincade, 47, was an Air Force reservist assigned to the 5th Flying Training Squadron, according to a news release. He was a husband and father of two. Social media posts indicated Kincade had previously served as an active-duty Navy pilot and was an Afghanistan war veteran.
Wilkie, 23, was a student pilot recently commissioned into the Air Force. He is survived by his wife, parents and sister, according to the Air Force. Wilkie was from San Diego and a 2018 graduate of the Air Force Academy, where he was a catcher on the Falcons baseball team, according to the academy’s website.
Air Force Col. Corey Simmons said the probe to determine the cause of the fatal crash was expected to last one to two months. He and other Air Force officials declined to offer any additional details on the crash that left the fallen pilots’ jet upside down, several hundred feet off the runway. Video footage captured by local news outlets shows severe damage to the plane’s nose and a long trail left in the ground stretching from the runway to the aircraft.
The second T-38 came to a rest just off the runway, the footage shows. It was not clear Friday whether the second aircraft sustained any damage, but Simmons reported the two pilots in that plane were not injured in the incident.
The colonel, who commands Vance’s 71st Flying Training Wing, said Thursday that he was not certain whether the jets had collided.
“For the purity of the safety investigation, I don’t want to guess” what happened, Simmons said in a late news conference at the Oklahoma base. “One thing the Air Force is good at is diving into a safety investigation and finding out exactly what happened.”
Simmons said the deadly crash had rocked the base, its pilot training program, and the local community.
“It breaks my heart,” he said Thursday evening. “We are a close-knit family and when tragedies like this occur, every member of the U.S. Armed Forces, Vance, Enid [Oklahoma], feels it.”
The crash was only the second major crash of an aircraft in the last two decades from the base, which is about 90 miles north of Oklahoma City. Another T-38 from Vance crashed in August 2018, but the pilots survived.
Five T-38s crashed across the United States between November 2017 and November 2018, including two fatal crashes out of Laughlin Air Force Base in Texas. Both incidents were ultimately blamed on hardware failures – one on a total hydraulic failure and the other on a compressor stall.
The Air Force flies the T-38C model, which was introduced in 2001 with upgraded instrumentation, as its primary jet aircraft trainer. Earlier versions of the T-38 have been used in Air Force training programs since the early 1960s. The planes are scheduled to be retired in the coming years as they are replaced by new Boeing-built jet trainers during the next 15 years.