Two Flight Crew Hospitalized. No Ground Casualties in Crash of Advanced Trainer. It’s the second T-38 crash in 6 months, fifth USAF crash (tenth U.S. military) since the beginning of 2018
A USAF T-38C Talon II advanced, twin-engine jet trainer has crashed near Highway 373 and Barton’s Ferry Road north of Columbus AFB, Mississippi approximately 9 miles north of the city of Columbus on May 23. It’s the second T-38 crash in little more than 6 months: a U.S. Air Force T-38 crashed on Monday, November 20, 2017 outside Lake Amistad, Texas, killing the pilot.
Reports from the scene say that the Talon went down at approximately 8:30 AM local time. Witnesses have told several news outlets that the flight crew of two “ejected safely”. A statement released from Columbus AFB said the two flight crew were being evaluated and treated at a local facility.
Witnesses report seeing a plume of smoke from downtown Columbus, Mississippi, although the aircraft is reported to have gone down outside of the town. An Air Force statement reported in local news media said there were no structures or houses near the area where the aircraft is reported to have gone down.
Columbus Air Force Base is home to the USAF 14th Operations Group. Contained within that unit are six individual training squadrons who perform the 52-week Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training (SUPT) training mission. The 14th Operations Group also performs quality assurance for private contract aircraft maintenance.
At least two squadrons within the 14th Operations Group operate the T-38C Talon II; the 49th Fighter Training Squadron, the “Black Knights” and the 50th Fighter Training Squadron, the “Strikin’ Snakes”. Other units within the operations group operate the T-6 Texan II and T-1 Jayhawk trainers. The 43rd Flying Training Squadron of the 14th Operations Group also lists the T-38 advanced jet trainer in their inventory in addition to the 49th and 50th T-38C Talon II flying training squadrons.
The T-38 Talon trainer, and its newer, updated T-38C Talon II, are advanced, supersonic jet trainers. The T-38 family of advanced trainers is also the first-ever supersonic jet trainer first flown in April, 1959. Similar, single seat versions of the aircraft under the Northrop F-5 designation are used as lightweight, multirole combat aircraft by air forces around the world. An advanced version of the F-5 called the F-20 Tigershark was proposed as an alternate aircraft during the development of the General Dynamics F-16, but neither adopted by the U.S. Air Force nor sold as an export aircraft.
Given the long, nearly 60-year history of the T-38 trainer family, and its role as a training aircraft that is operated frequently by pilots relatively new to high performance, supersonic jet aircraft, the T-38 family has a good safety record with approximately 200+ accidents reported since its first flight. The T-38 is also used as a currency trainer for units as diverse as older SR-71 units and current B-2 Spirit stealth bomber pilots. It has been used as a chase and observation aircraft in numerous flight test and development programs including the space shuttle.
No names or specific units have been released in connection with today’s crash outside Columbus AFB and no cause for the crash has been suggested. As with all USAF accidents, the official cause of the crash will likely be released following an official investigation.
This accident continues a series of recent incidents and accidents in U.S. military aviation: the most recent one involved a WC-130H from the 156th Airlift Wing from Puerto Rico ANG that crashed near Chatham City, Georgia on May 2, 2018, causing 9 deaths.
Top image: file photo of a Northrop T-38C Talon II Advanced Jet Trainer (USAF)