Ejection Seat Misfire Kills Air Force Instructor Pilot at Texas Base

Elephant walk of 40 T-38 Talons and 40 T-6A Texans
Four thousand airmen participated in a one-of-a-kind elephant walk of 40 T-38 Talons and 40 T-6A Texans, April 7, 2023, at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Katie Caroline McKee))

An Air Force instructor pilot out of Sheppard Air Force Base in Texas died early Tuesday morning due to injuries caused by an ejection seat that fired while on the ground.

The pilot, who had not yet been identified pending the notification of next of kin, died of injuries suffered "when their T-6A Texan II ejection seat activated during ground operations" the day prior, a Tuesday press release from the base said. The aviator was with the 80th Flying Training Wing, which instructs roughly 200 pilots each year, according to the wing's website.

Base officials said an investigation into the incident is underway. The pilot's death marks the latest incident with the T-6 and comes on the heels of a grounding of the aircraft two years ago over worries with the ejection seat.

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Last month, an Air Force T-6 with the 559th Flying Training Squadron had to make a sudden emergency landing at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas, the service said in an April 4 news release.

In July 2022, the service's Air Education and Training Command was told by Air Force Materiel Command that some of the training fleet may have been affected by "quality defects in the manufacture of explosive cartridges in the escape systems of our T-38 and T-6 aircraft," Military.com was told at that time.

Out of caution, the 19th Air Force stopped training operations on those aircraft and suspected that 203 of the T-38s and 76 of the T-6s could be affected by the ejection seat defect. Breaking Defense reported that two months after the July grounding, no faulty cartridges had been found on T-6s at that time.

Between 2000 and 2021, the latest data available, there were seven T-6 Class A mishaps -- the classification for the service's most deadly and costly crashes. Two T-6 pilots died during that time frame, according to Air Force Safety Center data, both in 2004.

The incidents with the T-6 also come amid larger problems facing the Air Force as it tries to upgrade its aging training fleet.

The service's new T-7A Red Hawk training jet meant to replace the T-38 Talon training aircraft, which has been in use since the 1960s, has faced delays connected to issues with the software and the ejection system, Military.com previously reported.

The first T-7 aircraft was delivered to Edwards Air Force Base, California, in November to begin flight testing. Originally, a full fleet was supposed to be available to airmen by 2027 but, DefenseOne reported, that initial operating capacity for the aircraft has been pushed back to 2028.

Related: Air Force Faces 2-Year Delay on New T-7 Training Jets as Old Aircraft Continue to Have Mishaps

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