Air Force Academy reportedly trying to sell problematic T3A training planes : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Air Force Academy reportedly trying to sell problematic T3A training planes

AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. (AP) - The Air Force reportedly is trying to sell its fleet of T-3A Firefly training planes, which have crashed three times, killing six people.

The first preference would be to sell the 110 planes back to Slingsby Aviation, the British company that makes the T-3As, an unidentified Pentagon official told the Gazette.

A decision should be made within four months.

"If they are willing to buy the whole lot, that is the way to do it," the official said.

If Slingsby agrees to take the planes back, it would outfit them with new engines and overhaul the air frames, then sell them in Europe, the Pentagon official said.

Officials from Slingsby could not be reached for comment.

The Air Force permanently grounded the twin-seat, piston-driven T-3As in October after a series of crashes. The Air Force spent $32 million on the planes in 1994 and made them the core of a flight training program designed to better predict whether cadets and other pilot candidates could handle the rigors of expensive jet training.

In February 1995, a month after the T-3A began flying at the academy, one crashed in Colorado Springs, killing Capt. Dan Fischer and cadet Mark Dostal. The Air Force cut back on certain maneuvers and gave parachutes to instructors and students.

Two more crashes followed, killing four people, before the Air Force grounded the plane in July 1997. The Air Force said the plane had mechanical problems, including 66 cases in which the engine stopped unexpectedly. Most of those engine failures occurred on the ground, but investigators cited human error in all the crashes.

The Air Force later spent $8 million to revamp the planes' fuel systems. In the meantime, the Air Force sent cadets and other prospective pilots to civilian flight schools as a precursor to jet school.

Officials decided in October to dump the T-3A program and keep students in civilian schools. Now the academy is looking for a private company to train cadets on base in planes similar to the ones the T-3A replaced.

If Slingsby will not buy the planes, the Air Force could sell them to the public. They could only be licensed as experimental aircraft, however, because the Air Force didn't put the planes through all the required Federal Aviation Administration tests.

The Air Force maintains the planes were and are safe, but military officials would have less concern about liability if the planes were sold to the manufacturer, the Pentagon official said.

"It would create a loop back to Slingsby," he said.

The planes are being stored in hangars at the academy and in Hondo, Texas, where other pilot candidates trained.

Mechanics have maintained the planes since they were taken out of service more than two years ago.

-- Carl Jenkins (, March 21, 2000

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