A fatal accident involving two T-38C Talon aircraft that left a student pilot dead and two U.S. Air Force flight instructors injured late last year was the result of the instructors’ poor communication and failure to recognize and intervene during a precarious situation, according to an Air Force investigation.
Results from the probe into the incident have prompted Air Force Air Education and Training Command (AETC) to issue new training guidance for formation landings that includes raising the minimum altitude for the maneuver and standardizing radio procedures to reduce confusion, Air Force Magazine reported.
The November 19, 2021, accident occurred shortly after 10 a.m. when the two aircraft assigned to the 47th Flying Training Wing attempted a formation approach at Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas.
“The mission plan called for a formation approach, with one aircraft landing and the other performing a low approach. However, miscommunication between the pilots on who would land and who would perform the low approach resulted in both pilots attempting to land simultaneously,” AETC said in a statement following the release of findings from an accident investigation.
The miscommunication led to the second aircraft flying above the first in a position where neither T-38s were visible to the other aircraft, according to the Aircraft Accident Investigation Board (AIB) Report.
“When the second aircraft landed on top of the first aircraft, the landing gear impacted the first aircraft’s horizontal stabilizer and both aircraft were rendered uncontrollable,” AETC said.
Student pilot 2nd Lt. Anthony D.Wentz, 23, of Falcon, Colorado, who was in the second aircraft, was killed during an interrupted ejection sequence during the landing phase to Runway 13 Center (13C). The flight was Wentz’s fourth formation event in the T-38C Specialized Undergraduate Training Program, according to the AIB report.
One of the injured instructor pilots was transported to Val Verde Regional Medical Center in Del Rio, Texas, where they were treated and released, the Air Force said in a statement at the time of the accident.
The other instructor pilot is still recovering from life-threatening injuries, AETC said last week.
“Based on evidence discovered during the investigation, the AIB president identified two causes of the accident,” AETC said. “First, during the formation approach, the instructor pilot in the second aircraft with Lt. Wentz failed to communicate, and the instructor pilot in the first aircraft failed to verify which aircraft would land.” The scenario led both to attempt landing simultaneously. “Second, the instructor pilot in the second aircraft with the student pilot failed to recognize a precarious situation developing after the ‘cleared off’ call and failed to intervene and prevent the second aircraft from impacting the first aircraft on landing.”