UPDATED Thursday, February 1, 2018
TUPELO, Miss. (WTVA) - The U.S. Air Force announced Thursday that it has temporarily grounded a popular training aircraft known at the T-6. There are 99 of those aircraft at Columbus Air Force Base.
The Air Force says it has grounded the T-6 system-wide because of what it calls "a cluster of unexplained physiological events" related to hypoxia. Ten of those events occurred at Columbus Air Force Base. The other three at bases in Oklahoma and Texas.
The Beechcraft T-6 is a two-seater turbo-prop airplane, and it's popular because it's significantly cheaper to operate than the jets the Air Force was using. The T-6 has been operational for about 18 years and it's used widely in North America to train new pilots and give them the foundational skills they need to move on to more advanced aircraft. Hypoxia is a lack of oxygen -- and it can be deadly, especially when this airplane is flying at or near its ceiling of 31,000 feet. The cause of these events isn't clear - so far technicians have been unable to find the root causes.
Authorities at the Air Education and Training Command in Texas told WTVA that a task force has been established to look into these unexplained events. The fleet will remain grounded until that team can develop a plan to reduce or eliminate the risks to pilots.
JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas (Press Release) – The 19th Air Force commander has issued an operational pause for all T-6 Texan II operations to ensure aircrew safety after a cluster of unexplained physiological events occurred at Columbus AFB, Mississippi, Vance AFB, Oklahoma, and Sheppard AFB, Texas within the last week.
Maj. Gen. Patrick Doherty directed the operational pause, beginning Feb. 1, to enable the Air Force to examine the root causes of the incidents, educate and listen to aircrew, develop and deliver mitigation solutions.
“The safety of our instructors and student pilots is paramount and has been our priority and focus,” said Maj. Gen. Patrick Doherty, 19th Air Force commander. “We’re acting swiftly, making temporary, but necessary, changes to everyone’s training, general awareness, checklist procedures, and possibly modify aircrew flying equipment to mitigate risk to the aircrew while we tackle this issue head-on to safeguard everyone flying T-6s.”
The Air Force established a general officer-led team to integrate and coordinate efforts across the Air Force to address aircrew Unexplained Physiological Events in early 2018. Brig. Gen. Bobbi Jo Doorenbos is leading the team and will work closely with 19th Air Force, AETC, and other MAJCOMs to examine the causes of these incidents and ensure industry and enterprise-wide solutions are given high priority to find root causes and deliver solutions across all weapon systems.
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