Air Force Pilot Ejects From T-38 When Jet Becomes ‘Inoperable and Unrecoverable’

T-38 Talons Visit Patrick Space Force Base

T-38 Talons from Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi, at Patrick Space Force Base, Florida, March 26, 2021. A Columbus-based T-38, the Air Force’s primary high performance trainer, crashed in Mississippi on Nov. 7. US Space Force photo by Airman 1st Class Thomas Sjoberg.

US Space Force photo by Airman 1st Class Thomas Sjoberg.

Some local residents found and helped an Air Force pilot after he ejected and parachuted from his crashing airplane over a rural stretch of Mississippi.

According to Air Force officials, a T-38C from Columbus Air Force Base became “inoperable and unrecoverable” while taking off for a training flight on Monday, Nov. 7, crashing 20 miles south of the main base. Col. Jeremy Bergin, vice commander of the 14th Flying Training Wing, said in a press conference that both the pilot and the aircraft landed in a field, where local residents quickly reached him.

“There was actually some bystanders in the field, or nearby the field, that helped get that member to the ambulance,” Bergin said.

The pilot was taken by ambulance to a local hospital, where he was said to be in “good spirits,” Bergin said.

T-38 Talons Visit Patrick Space Force Base

T-38s are among the Air Force’s oldest airplanes, originally placed in service in 1961. The last models were built in 1972. US Space Force photo by Airman 1st Class Thomas Sjoberg.

US Space Force photo by Airman 1st Class Thomas Sjoberg.

A local news station reported that a fire official there said the crash was due to a bird strike, but Air Force officials said they could not comment on possible causes.

Though T-38s are training aircraft designed to carry both a student and an instructor pilot, only one instructor pilot was on board for the mishap.

The crash occurred at around 1 p.m., according to Bergin, during a two-ship formation takeoff. The formation is a common one in flight training in which students practice leading a mission with two planes as “flight lead.” The two planes were in a typical formation, said Bergin, with a student pilot and one instructor in one T-38 and the second instructor flying alone as the student’s wingman.

Columbus is a central hub for pilot training, where new pilots learn to fly the supersonic T-38. Pilots who graduate from training in the T-38 go on to fly the service’s highest performance fighters like the F-15, F-22, and F-35.

T-38 Talons Visit Patrick Space Force Base

After initial training on small propeller planes, Air Force pilots training to fly fighters like F-22s and F-35s spend close to a year training on the T-38, which can reach supersonic speeds. US Space Force photo by Airman 1st Class Thomas Sjoberg.

US Space Force photo by Airman 1st Class Thomas Sjoberg.

Two investigations are underway, said Bergin, including a relatively rapid safety investigation that will determine if any clear safety issues led to the crash that could affect ongoing flights. A second, more in-depth mishap investigation will determine what factors led to the crash and assign blame if appropriate.

T-38s are among the Air Force’s oldest airplanes, originally placed in service in 1961. The newest models were built in 1972.

The crash is the latest in a string of T-38 crashes during two-ship training flights since 2019. A crash almost exactly a year ago killed a student pilot at Laughlin Air Force Base as two planes attempted to land. Another similar crash killed a student in 2019.

Read Next: Does Last Week’s Fatal Air Force Crash Look Like One in 2019?

Matt White is a senior editor for Coffee or Die Magazine. He was a Pararescueman in the Air Force and the Alaska Air National Guard for eight years and has more than a decade of experience in daily and magazine journalism. He also teaches journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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