Air Force still facing T-6 issues at CAFB

Staff Writer

As the grounding of the T-6 Texan training aircraft nears the end of its third week, Air Force leaders still aren't sure when the planes might get back in the air.

That comes as the Air Force continues to increase its pilot training goals at 1,400 a year.

The Air Education Training Command parked the T-6, including about 100 at Columbus Air Force Base, on Feb. 1, following episodes of hypoxia reported by pilots there and at other training bases.
According to the Air Force Magazine, the service is losing 700 T-6 sorties a day, Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Stephen 'Seve'  Wilson, a former CAFB commander, told the Senate Armed Services Committee last week.

More than half the flights flown at CAFB each year involve the T-6.

Wilson said the Air Force Material Command and the AETC meet daily to discuss the latest findings in what he called a "full-court press working to identify the problem."

That effort includes work with teams from NASA and others from the Navy, which has faced similar problems with some of its On-Board Oxygen Generation systems.

"We think it’s partly maintenance related, partly an aircrew flight equipment problem, and we think there is a training piece," Wilson told the committee.

He said a report this week might offer further insight. In the meantime, leaders are looking for ways to make up the lost training time on the back end.

"Our T-6 is critical for our ability as a basic trainer. We are looking holistically at how to solve that from a material solution, from an education solution, from a training solution to get that aircraft back on its feet as soon as possible," Lt. Gen. Chris Nowland, the Air Force deputy chief of staff for operations, told the House Armed Services Committee in prepared remarks last week, according to the Air Force Magazine.

The Air Force ground the T-6 for three weeks last year at one base but not Air Force wide. Some changes were made at that time, but the problems have persisted.

Air Force leaders have said the continued reports pose a serious safety risk.

Meanwhile, problems with the T-6 not only hurt short-term training goals but also pose problems for the Air Force's efforts to turn out more pilots each year.

The service is about 2,000 pilots short of what it needs. Air Force leaders say 1,300 of those are in the fighter ranks.

The 2016, the Air Force graduated 1,108 pilots, about a third of those at CAFB. Last month, CAFB Commander Col. Doug Gosney told a group of business leaders the base hopes to up its numbers to 382 this year as part of the overall growth. The base graduated 309 in 2016 and 327 last year.

In his testimony last week, Nowland said the expanded training targets will help the Air Force "grow out of" its pilot shortage problem.

"In the end, growing pilots for America and for the United States Air Force is in our best interest, and that's what we intend to do," Nowland said, according to Air Force Magazine.

To reach its goals, Air Force leadership is working on 60 initiatives, Nowland said. They aren't designed to fight competition from private airlines, but instead boost pilot numbers through training on the front end. In addition, some other changes address quality of life issues, including some monetary bonuses.

The service also has asked some recently retired pilots to return in desk jobs. Meanwhile, bonus offers are being designed to go after critical needs, especially instructors and evaluators, Nowland said, noting that even with the changes during the coming months, the Air Force still won't be able to compete with private airlines.

CAFB has completed or is working on a number of upgrades designed to make the base more comfortable for young pilots. Those include everything from exercise areas and running tracks to its day care, center which recently won top honors from the Air Force.

It's unclear how other initiatives could impact either CAFB's infrastructure or its staffing. It already is the region's largest employer with about 2,700 military and civilian workers and a $250 million a year economic impact. The employment numbers are down from almost 3,000 a few years ago.

The economic impact doesn't include millions more in benefits for more than 5,000 veterans who live in or near the Golden Triangle.