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Pilot errors on descent led to fatal T-38 crash in February, Air Force says

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An instructor and student pilot error caused the fatal crash of the T-38C trainer plane on February 19 in Alabama, the Air Force found in an investigation released Thursday.

The instructor, 1st Lt. Scot Ames, 24, of the 50th Flight Training Squadron at Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi, has been described as highly respected but inexperienced. Ames lost situational awareness on final approach for landing and failed to take necessary and timely action as a dangerous situation developed, ”the investigator wrote.

The student, Captain Renshi Uesaki, 25, of the Japanese Air Self-Defense Force, who had language problems, also “contributed substantially” to the crash when he was overwhelmed by air traffic. and left the throttle idling for too long at 18 seconds.

“This undetected and uncorrected action, associated with [Uesaki’s] additional flight controls to line up with the runway, resulted in insufficient airspeed and altitude and increased angle of attack and sink rate, and placed the [aircraft] outside the parameters of a safe flight, ”the investigation report said.

Ames and Uesaki were flying to Montgomery Regional Airport en route to Florida at around 4:40 p.m. that afternoon, when the student pilot missed the last turn on his approach to the airport, also known as the name of Dannelly Field, according to the survey.

The instructor told Uesaki to slow down and bank 40 degrees, so the student pushed the throttles to idle and turned left towards the runway – but ended up flying too slowly.

Ames attempted to intervene, taking control of the T-38C to level its wings, nose up and get maximum afterburner.

It was too late: the aircraft had slowed to 155 knots and was falling at 1,100 feet per minute.

The T-38C traversed 70-foot-high power lines, a light tower, and a grove of trees before touching down in seconds, “about 1,800 feet from the approach end of the track 28 “, according to the report. The two men died instantly without trying to eject.

Alabama Power Company employees near the crash site called 911, and local civilian and military fire departments arrived at the scene about 30 minutes later.

T-38Cs are supersonic jet trainers primarily used to prepare aviators to fly fighter jets and bombers.

Circling approaches like that attempted by Uesaki can create an “insidious descent” if the pilot leans too hard, the Air Force noted. During these approaches, a pilot should not fly below a particular circling altitude and maintain a consistently lower airspeed when lining up with the runway. Once they are properly aligned and can land safely, the pilot can slow down to final speed and fully open the flaps to create the most drag.

“The pilot must remain vigilant for stall indications and have the discipline to perform a go-around or stall recovery if necessary,” the report said. “The circling approach presents a potential sink rate problem in the T-38C that may not be accompanied by a stall warning.”

Airmen called the flight to Alabama high risk as it took an inexperienced instructor and an international student to fly over water at an unfamiliar airfield, amid low clouds and the possibility of ice. slight. The squadron commander nevertheless approved the sortie.

Ames was up to date and qualified to fly the T-38C, “respected by its officers and fellow instructors and had excellent relationships with its students,” according to the survey. “He had a reputation as one of the best and hardest working first-duty training pilots in the squadron.”

Uesaki had flown the Talon since July 2020 but was deemed at least slightly below average in the airframe, the Air Force said. Yet he was known as a “very respectful, hardworking and diligent student who studied long hours in preparation for his outings,” the service said. “He was also known to help other student pilots prepare for their outings.”

Uesaki’s instructors discovered that he had difficulty speaking and understanding English despite the end of language training in August 2019. This “had a direct impact on his ability to receive and process instructions as well. only to listen and talk on the radio, “according to the report. “This challenge was exacerbated during instrument sorties, which required more frequent communications with” air traffic control.

A tendency to over-correct when problems arose and to troubleshoot messy issues in the cockpit compounded their problems and contributed to the couple’s deaths.

“Although it is common for students… to be overwhelmed with traffic, this error was a particular trend for [Uesaki] throughout his training, ”the report says. His “aviation skills seemed to be overwhelmed by the task of alignment on the runway, which led to other equally important aviation priorities… not being considered.”

Ames and Uesaki died a day after a faulty touch-and-go landing crashed a T-38 in California, and about a year after another instructor and student pilot were killed during a landing in formation of T-38 in Oklahoma.

Rachel Cohen joined the Air Force Times as a senior reporter in March 2021. Her work has been featured in Air Force Magazine, Inside Defense, Inside Health Policy, the Frederick News-Post (Md.), The Washington Post and others. .


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