Two U.S. Air Force T-38 Talon trainers involved in accidents. Two were killed in the one at Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi.
Two separate, non-related accidents involving USAF T-38 Talon trainers have occurred during the past two days. In the most recent accident on Friday, Feb. 19, 2021, near Montgomery Regional Airport in Alabama, the two-person crew was killed when their T-38 trainer aircraft crashed into a field outside the airport. Although both members of the flight crew died in the crash, no injuries by persons on the ground were reported in the accident.
The first accident happened on Thursday, Feb. 18, 2021 at Beale AFB in California. The aircraft, a T-38 Talon belonging to the 9th Reconnaissance Wing stationed at Beale, suffered a landing gear malfunction and performed a “belly landing”. An official media release from Beale AFB public affairs reported that the pilots were not injured in the mishap. The accident at Beale AFB occurred at approximately 9:00 AM local time on Thursday. The 9th Reconnaissance Wing is primarily tasked with the operation of strategic reconnaissance aircraft including the U-2 high altitude reconnaissance aircraft and the ultra-long endurance RQ-4 Global Hawk remotely piloted surveillance aircraft. The unit uses the T-38 Talon as a training aircraft to maintain flight crew currency and for logistical support of the U-2R and RQ-4 intelligence gathering mission.
Friday’s fatal T-38 crash that killed two happened during a flight from Columbus, Mississippi, to Tallahassee, Florida according to reports. A local news report by Alabama News Network Staff said that, “The fighter jet crashed in woods near Old Lamar Road and U.S. Highway 80 at 5:17PM”.
The aircraft involved in the crash was assigned to the USAF 14th Flying Training Wing at Columbus AFB, Mississippi. The unit is tasked with performing the 52-week Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training program that prepares future USAF pilots and some foreign exchange students for assignment to operational units or more advanced training.
The Northrop T-38 Talon is a two-seat, twin-engine, supersonic advanced jet training aircraft used by the U.S. Air Force and several other forces including the U.S. Navy. The aircraft first flew nearly 62 years ago and was the first-ever supersonic trainer aircraft. The T-38 is nearing retirement from active USAF trainer service and will be replaced by the new T-7A Redhawk advanced jet trainer built by Boeing. The T-7A Redhawk is scheduled to become operational as an advanced, supersonic jet trainer to replace the aging T-38 Talon with the USAF in 2023.
Although questions about the safety of the aging T-38 Talon fleet have surfaced in the wake of accidents, including a series of T-38 crashes in twelve months between November 2017 and November 2018 and subsequent incident in 2019, the aircraft has continued to serve as an advanced jet trainer. One retired USAF pilot told TheAviationist, on condition of anonymity, that the T-38, “Can be difficult to handle in the [landing] pattern because of its small wings”.
The Air Force has conducted exhaustive investigations into the cause of each separate accident involving the T-38 and, in the wake of a fatal accident at Laughlin AFB in Texas on Monday, Nov. 20, 2017, did temporarily ground some of the T-38s pending crash investigations. The aircraft was subsequently cleared to return to normal flight operations.