After Light-Attack Plane Crash, Air Force Suspends Flying Trials

Ethan D. WagnerU.S. Air Force

After a June 22 crash that killed a Navy pilot, the U.S. Air Force is suspending the flying tests for two light-attack aircraft.

The flight trials comprised just a portion in a series of experiments to determine the acquisition of a light-attack propellor jet. Air Force officials still intend to solicit bids from Textron and Sierra Nevada Corp-Embraer as early as December, Government Executive reported.

The decision to cease the flights, which were originally to stretch into July, will not interfere with the end-of-year timeline.

Lieutenant General Arnold Bunch, a top uniformed acquisition official, said, as Defense News reported, that the service has already gathered the data needed from Textron’s AT-6 Wolverine and SNC-Embraer’s A-29 Super Tucano to make a procurement decision.

The Air Force is to obtain further intelligence from the contractors and examine a novel commercial off-the-shelf network onboard a surrogate aircraft.

“We got quite a bit of experimentation done in that area, we demonstrated that we could utilize it on those platforms,” Bunch said. “Now what we’ll do is we’ll transition that onto some surrogate aircraft. We believe that is easily doable where we can collect the data off those and it will be applicable for what we’re trying to do with the light attack and coming up with an exportable network.”

The purpose of the operation is to employ a potential light-attach aircraft program, to be called OA-X, to be utilized in the counter-terrorism efforts in the Middle East.

Last month’s tragic accident involved the A-29 Super Tucano, which flew over the Red Rio Bombing Range north of Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico. It left Lieutenant Christopher Carey Short dead and inflicted minor injuries to a second pilot, who was airlifted to a hospital.

“Anytime you lose an airman, you have to pause, and you have to pause and think a little bit,” Bunch said.

“So the loss of Lt. Short is a critical setback for America, writ large. That is a big hit to all of us. Having said that, we were trying a different approach, we believe we’ve collected the data using the approach and I would see us using approaches similar to this in the future.”

The cause of the crash remains under investigation. While an analysis is expected to conclude within 30 days of the incident, the Air Force may not release the root cause of the lethal mishap for months.