Air Education and Training Command has lost more than 11,000 training sorties since the T-6 fleet was grounded on Feb. 1, but command leaders say they want to give scientists and engineers time to figure out the root cause of the hypoxia-like incidents rather than rushing the aircraft back into the air.
“That’s what’s driving us. We’re not worrying about timelines. We’re not worried about the logjam of pilots and candidates that are stacking up. We’re worried about taking care of our No. 1 weapon system, and that’s our people,” Maj. Gen. Patrick Doherty, commander of 19th Air Force, told reporters at AWS18.
The Air Force had to cancel a “good portion” of the last class set to enter pilot training, but it was able to push about 70 pilots to the T-38 slightly sooner than expected. All undergraduate student pilots train on the T-6. They are then split off into either a fighter/bomber track, which moves on to the T-38 Talon, or the cargo/tanker/transport track, which moves on to the T-1 Jayhawk for additional training.
Doherty said the command looked at all the students’ records and decided who was “ready to push on,” noting, “they only missed a couple of sorties or a sim here or there.”
AETC boss Lt. Gen. Steven Kwast, speaking at the same roundtable with reporters, said in the meantime the command has discovered that until a final fix is found for the onboard oxygen generating system (OBOGS), the system can be turned off and pilots can breath in ambient air in the cockpit. USAF and NASA engineers have been measuring the air and Kwast said, “It’s showing to be safe, and clean, and good air.”
The teams studying the problem have discovered some “failures with the shutoff valve” and “with the reservoir,” which holds the oxygen, but Kwast emphasized that it’s still “too early to say those are the root cause" or to determine "what to do about them.” The T-6 OBOGS has endured about 2.1 million hours of “good use,” but Kwast said it’s also too early to say that the system has reached the end of its service life.
“We don’t that know yet. To jump to that conclusion would not allow the scientists and engineers the time to really test things properly,” Kwast said. “We’ve gone in and tested certain components and found some that were failing more often they should. That’s an indication that there are some issues there, but again we don’t want to jump to conclusions at this junction.”
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