Base maintenance workers inspecting T-38s after fatal crashes

  • Published
  • By David DeKunder
  • Staff writer
Randolph flight line and aircraft maintenance workers have been working non-stop checking and inspecting the base's inventory of T-38C Talons after the aircraft were involved in two fatal crashes several weeks ago in Texas and Mississippi. 

Ninety base maintenance, flight line and shop personnel have gone to 12-hour shifts after Air Education and Training Command suspended T-38 flights earlier this month. The T-38, a supersonic jet trainer used to prepare student pilots for future training in fighter and bomber aircraft and pilot instructor training, was involved in a crash that killed two pilots April 23 at Columbus Air Force Base, Miss., and in a fatal accident May 1 at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas. 

After AETC suspended T-38 flights, Maj. Gen. Irving L. Halter Jr., 19th Air Force commander, ordered a one-day safety stand-down May 5 to re-emphasize to instructors, student pilots and maintenance personnel the importance of flying safety and operational procedures. 

Ronald Patterson, 12th Mainte-nance Directorate director, said Randolph maintenance, flight line and shop personnel have been checking the base's inventory of 69 T-38s since May 6, the day after the safety stand-down, with emphasis on the aircraft's aileron actuator and lever system. 

"We have been removing the levers and having them go through an inspection process," Mr. Patterson said. "If we find a crack we have taken the lever out of inventory and installed a new one in the aileron actuator. We are releasing the airplanes one by one to get them flying again once we have completed the inspections." 

Ailerons are the parts near the edge of the aircraft's wing that go up and down to make an aircraft roll. The actuator is a hydraulic part that moves the ailerons up and down and has a lever attached to it, which is controlled by the pilot in the cockpit. 

Frank Mirabelli, 12th Maintenance Directorate aircraft maintenance supervisor, said maintenance, flight line and shop personnel had inspected 41 of the base's 69 T-38s and had replaced 19 levers as of May 12. 

"The entire inspection process takes 12 to 18 hours per aircraft," Mr. Mirabelli said. 

Mr. Mirabelli said the inspection process starts when the actuators with the lever on it are removed from the aircraft. The actuator is sent to the hydraulic shop, where the levers are removed from them. Once the levers are removed, the paint from them is stripped off and an inspection dye is put on the lever to check for any cracks. If any cracks are found, the lever is replaced. Levers with no cracks are then sent back to the hydraulic shop to be reinstalled to the actuator and set to the neutral position. The actuators are then put back in the T-38s. 

Base maintenance, flight line and shop personnel have been dedicated to getting the T-38s flying as soon as possible, Mr. Mirabelli said. 

"Our workers have done an outstanding job," he said. "We are way ahead of where we expected to be." 

Mr. Mirabelli said if the 12th Maintenance Directorate can keep up with its current pace, all base T-38 inspections should be completed by Tuesday.