Tag Archives: Light Attack Experiment

USAF Light Attack Experiment Halted Following Fatal Crash

Overall Light Attack Acquisition Project Continues Despite Accident.

Military.com’s Oriana Pawlyk reports that the innovative U.S. Air Force Light Attack Experiment has been halted following last week’s fatal crash of an Embraer A-29 Super Tucano light attack aircraft within the Red Rio Bombing Range at the White Sands Test Facility in Las Cruces, New Mexico outside Alamogordo.

The Light Attack Experiment is intended to test both a new evaluation process for some USAF acquisition programs and simultaneously provide functional analysis of small, tactical light attack aircraft that can be operated economically and efficiently for close air support and reconnaissance in an insurgent conflict. Most of the participant aircraft are single engine turboprops. The program is said to potentially compliment and economize other Air Force programs including the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter by offering a less expensive, more agile program architecture that is suggested to even include innovations in how the Air Force trains new pilots.

U.S. Navy pilot Lt. Christopher Carey Short, from Canandaigua, New York died in the crash on Friday, June 22, 2018 while flying the Embraer A-29 Super Tucano. Another crew member on board the two-seat light turboprop attack and trainer aircraft is being reported as injured after ejecting from the aircraft.

The Embraer A-29 Super Tucano that crashed is a successful, combat-proven light tactical trainer, strike and intelligence/surveillance/reconnaissance aircraft that is being evaluated in the Air Force Light Attack Experiment.

No cause for the accident has been reported and the cause of the accident is under investigation according to Air Force Public Affairs at Holloman AFB.

According to Pawlyk’s report, U.S. Air Force Air Combat Command commanding officer General Mike Holmes told reporters that, “The OA-X tests have been suspended amid the ongoing accident investigation, and will remain on hold until officials can decide if more testing is even needed.”

Gen. Holmes comments did not clarify specifically if the program will potentially move ahead to an acquisition phase without further testing, or, if the program may be suspended following this fatal accident.

Journalist Pawlyk reported in early December 2017 in a separate article for Military.com that Members of Congress were, at the time, eager to hear the findings of the Light Attack Experiment.

“During a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on acquisition reform Thursday [in 2017], senators said they are hopeful the light attack aircraft, known as OA-X, procurement strategy may improve how future weapons systems are acquired,” Pawlyk reported.
General Holmes did go on to tell reporters, “I don’t think this will have a chilling effect on future experiments. Whenever you’re trying something new there are risks.”

The Light Attack Experiment is in Phase II of now, with evaluation flights being conducted mostly from Holloman AFB, New Mexico. The program was originally intended to run through July, 2018.

During a media event in 2017, journalists and observers were invited to Holloman AFB to see aircraft being evaluated in the Light Attack Experiment and gain insights into the Air Force’s potential concepts for acquisition. At the time, program leaders including General Holmes and Secretary of the Air Force Dr. Heather Wilson, emphasized that the program was not a “fly-off” competition, but an insight into potentially new processes for evaluating some new Air Force programs.

Secretary of the U.S. Air Force, Dr. Heather Wilson (left) and USAF General James M. “Mike” Holmes, Commander, Air Combat Command at the Light Attack Demo media day last year at Holloman AFB. (Photo: Tom Demerly/TheAviationist.com)

Reporters, including this writer, were scheduled to return to Holloman AFB in July to report on the Light Attack Experiment again as the program neared its completion.

U.S. Navy Pilot Killed in A-29 Super Tucano Crash at White Sands Missile Range. Twelfth U.S. military aircraft crash in 2018.

Aircraft Was Part of Air Force Light Attack Experiment Program. It’s the seventh U.S. Air Force crash this year.

A U.S. Navy pilot participating in the ongoing Light Attack Experiment died Friday, June 22, 2018 when the Embraer A-29 Super Tucano aircraft he was flying crashed inside the Red Rio Bombing Range inside the White Sands Missile Range.

The U.S. Navy has identified the pilot who died in the accident as Lt. Christopher Carey Short, from Canandaigua, New York. Another crew member on board the two-seat light turboprop attack and trainer aircraft is being reported as injured after ejecting from the aircraft.

No cause for the accident has been reported and the cause of the accident is under investigation according to Air Force Public Affairs at Holloman AFB.

The aircrew involved in Friday’s accident was participating in the ongoing U.S. Air Force Light Attack Experiment, an evaluation program that is performing analysis and flight tests on several small, mostly turboprop light multi-role aircraft for potential integration into U.S. and allied air combat roles.

An Embraer A-29 Super Tucano at the U.S. Air Force Light Attack Experiment Demo in 2017 (Photo: Tom Demerly/TheAviationist.com)

According to an official Air Force statement released early last month, the second phase of the Light Attack Experiment began at Holloman AFB in New Mexico on May 7, 2018. The statement included remarks by USAF Lt. Gen. Arnie Bunch, military deputy, Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition.

“This second phase of the experimentation is about informing the rapid procurement process as we move closer to investing in light attack. If we can get light attack aircraft operating in permissive combat environments, we can alleviate the demand on our 4th and 5th generation aircraft, so they can be training for the high-end fight they were made for.”

The Embraer A-29 Super Tucano is one of several aircraft that have participated in the Light Attack Experiment. Other aircraft involved in the evaluation experiment include the Textron Aviation Defense AT-6 Wolverine turboprop and the U.S built Textron Aviation Defense Scorpion light jet, the only jet aircraft shown so far in the experiment. The IOMAX Archangel has also participated in some of the Light Attack Experiment.

The USAF’s controlled commercially-owned A-29 was about to demonstrate its capabilities as part of the second phase of the Light Attack Experiment on Jun. 22, when it crashed.

The A-29 Super Tucano is a proven light attack and trainer aircraft with a history of successful operation with a number of international operators including Afghanistan. On March 22, 2018, pilots of the Afghan Air Force successfully employed a GBU-58 Paveway II precision guided bomb against a Taliban target for the first time. The Afghan Air Force currently employs 12 A-29 Super Tucano light attack aircraft with more slated for delivery.

The Columbian Air Force has used the A-29 Super Tucano extensively in combat against the FARC rebels prior to the September 2016 ceasefire.

While the A-29 Super Tucano does have a proven performance and safety record the light attack mission can be inherently dangerous with aircraft frequently prosecuting targets at medium to very low altitude and in a crowded battlespace where communications with air assets and ground troops coordinating close air support is often complex.

The A-29 is the seventh U.S. Air Force crash (12th U.S. military aviation) since the beginning of the year. The most recent ones 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; a T-38 that crashed 9 miles north of the city of Columbus on May 23, 2018 after the pilots managed to eject; and a USAF F-15C Eagle belonging to the 18th Wing at Kadena AB, Okinawa that crashed into the ocean off Okinawa on Japan on Jun. 11, 2018: the pilot ejected but was seriously injured in the incident.