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Air Force T-6 Texan training plane grounded after cockpit scares

Fighter Jet mock-up (U.S. Air Force)

The Air Force has grounded the aircraft it uses to train many of its new pilots after oxygen-deprivation symptoms were reported among pilots at three stateside bases.

Maj. Gen. Patrick Doherty, 19th Air Force commander, ordered all T-6A Texan II training aircraft to stop flying on Thursday. Multiple unexplained physiological events, or UPEs, were reported throughout the week at Vance Air Force Base, Okla., Columbus Air Force Base, Miss., and Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas.

“The safety of our instructors and student pilots is paramount and has been our priority and focus,” Doherty said in a statement. “We’re acting swiftly, making temporary, but necessary, changes to everyone’s training, general awareness, checklist procedures, and possibly (modifying) aircrew flying equipment to mitigate risk to the aircrew while we tackle this issue head-on to safeguard everyone flying T-6s.”

The T-6 II is a single-engine turboprop that has been flying for the Air Force since 2000. The T-6 II is the service’s most common training aircraft, with 444 available as of December, according to a Congressional Research Service report. The Navy and Marine Corps use a similar T-6B II to train new pilots, though those services had not announced any groundings as of early Friday.

Vance Air Force Base grounded more than 100 T-6s in November when five pilots reported hypoxialike symptoms in four separate incidents. Flight operations resumed the next month after a two-week investigation into the aircraft’s oxygen system could identify “no specific root cause” for the events.

An officer-led group began efforts last month to investigate UPEs, including oxygen deprivation, disorientation and low carbon dioxide levels in the blood.

Brig. Gen. Bobbi Jo Doorenbos, who’s leading the team, will work with 19th Air Force, Air Education and Training Command, along with other major commands to examine the causes of these incidents.

In December, a NASA report concluded that the Navy had plenty of work to do to create safer conditions for pilots, after a spate of midair oxygen-related failures in the Navy’s fighter planes.

The T-6 Texan II is a military trainer version of Raytheon’s Beech/Pilatus PC-9 Mk II aircraft.

It prepares Air Force and Navy pilots for four training tracks: Air Force bomber-fighter or Navy strike, Air Force airlift-tanker or Navy maritime, turboprops and helicopters.


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