Fatal Crashes, Fuel Problems Led to Grounding

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The T-3s were purchased as part of a program to save money on initial flight training by the Air Force. The fully aerobatic, relatively high-performance aircraft allowed the Air Force to expose flight-training prospects to the twists and turns of military flying at relatively low cost to make sure they could handle the larger, more powerful primary flight training aircraft. But, according to GlobalSecurity.org, the T-3s were plagued by an apparent fuel problem that would cause the engine to quit when it was throttled back in flight. It happened 66 times on takeoff or landing. Three instructors and three students were killed in three crashes that donít appear to be related to the fuel fault. There were also 10 groundings of 57 aircraft for engine and brake problems.

The technical problems appear to have only indirectly led to the demise of the program, however. In 1997, the Air Force grounded the T-3s while it looked for solutions to its problems (it even considered installing ejection seats). Without the weeding-out process afforded by the T-3 program, the washout rate in primary flight training spiked above 15 percent and the Air Force sought a temporary solution. It contracted private flight schools to do the screening and found they did at least as good a job of bringing the failure rate down in the more advanced training. The Air Force has continued with the private-sector screening programs and the T-3s were orphaned. "The Air Force no longer has a mission for these aircraft," said McClure.