JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas –
On Dec. 28, 2018, a U.S. Air Force T-38A Talon assigned to Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, was involved in a landing mishap at nearby Newport News International Airport. Being a valuable Air Force asset, the T-38 System Program Office engineers evaluated the damage, and determined the aircraft was worth saving.
On July 24, 2019, aircraft 63-8229 was transported to Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph’s 575th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, or AMXS, for the T-38’s Aircraft Structural Integrity Program inspections in conjunction with the mishap repairs.
An aircraft depot squadron from Hill Air Force Base’s Ogden–Air Logistics Center and members of the 575th AMXS analyzed the aircraft and began taking the proper measures to make it operational again.
Now, nearly early two years since the aircraft mishap, aircraft 63-8229 has been fully restored, passing its post-overhaul Functional Check Flight and returned to fully mission capable status Dec. 4, 2020.
The aircraft is back to performing its role as a simulated aggressor aircraft, training Langley’s fifth-generation aircraft pilots the tactics and procedures needed when facing realistic adversaries.
“This type of undertaking is no small task,'' said Dan Miller, 575th AMXS support supervisor. “What’s so astonishing about this task is that it happened through manning shortages that came about during the COVID-19 pandemic and our incredible team continued to come to work and perform through the crisis. It didn’t stop the 575th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron.”
The event leading to the Langley T-38 aircraft’s depot overhaul was a less than ideal weather condition landing at Newport International Airport, near Langley Air Force Base, during the winter of 2018.
The aircraft touched down and ensued landing procedures on a wet runway. One of the aircraft’s tires blew out during slowdown and nearby video footage captured the aircraft immediately veering to the left, according to the official incident report.
Skid marks on the runway showed the aircraft overcorrected to the right-hand side of the runway and into a tailspin, skidding laterally to a nearly perpendicular position to the runway, and eventually departed the right side of the runway.
Upon leaving the runway, the right-hand main landing gear collapsed, driving the right-hand wing and horizontal stabilizer into the soil adjacent to the runway, which forced the aircraft to a sudden stop.
A Safety Investigation Board followed, and System Program Office support was requested for a structural damage assessment, which occurred Jan. 10, 2019.
Maintenance personnel from Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, were dispatched to Virginia to ready the aircraft for transport, and a NASA Super Guppy aircraft coordinated to pick it up at Newport News International Airport for transport to JBSA-Randolph under the care of the 575th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron.
When the aircraft arrived at JBSA, there was plenty of work to do.
“Evaluating the aircraft and its major components to see the extent of the damage was the initial step,” Miller said. “Following that, an inventory of all parts and their serviceability was necessary to evaluate the amount of work that was going to be required to get this aircraft back into service.”
The initial repair evaluations were a joint effort between the T-38 Systems Program Office and the 575th AMXS, and this process took months to complete, and, in some cases, some items were not discovered until the final rebuild of the aircraft, Miller added.
When it was determined the aircraft could be restored to fully mission capable, the next step was to determine the overall fiscal requirements. The funding was made available and the people, processes, and resources of the 575th AMXS were all it took to make it happen, Miller said.
“The T-38 aircraft 63-8229 has been at the depot for over a year,” said John Anderson, 575th AMXS production flight chief. “We have performed just under 5,700 hours of work to return it to service at a cost of $788,000 in labor, and roughly the same for parts. The estimated total cost was expected to be around $1.6 million at completion.”
The aircraft, which was produced from 1961–1972, would cost over $6.5 million in today's dollars.
The 575th AMXS repairs and rebuilds T-38 A, B, and C-model aircraft for several Major Commands across the Air Force, extending the lifetime of their use.
Some of the repairs which needed to be made to aircraft 63-8829 included replacing a wing, all three landing gears, all parts associated with attaching the gear to the aircraft, the right-hand wing leading edge, aileron, flap and wingtip. Teams also replaced the right-hand vertical stabilizer, overhauled the aft fuselage section, or boat tail, welding cracked ribs, and manufacturing and replacing its structural formers and fittings.
The 575th AMXS also replaced the aircraft's engines, all egress and life-sustaining explosive components, flight controls, and ensured the structural integrity in accordance with the T-38 ASIP inspections.
“I am proud to be a part of this organization and what it does for our Air Force,” Miller said. “The fact that we are helping train the future warfighters of our country is something I can brag about.”
Once the aircraft was fully repaired by the 575th AMXS, it was test flown Dec. 1, 2020, by Maj. Bede Bolin, T-38 command chief pilot, and Lt. Col. Andrew Williams, 415th Flight Test Flight commander.
The pilots took off down the runway and became airborne, where they flew for over an hour performing the functional check flight. During this time, they tested every aspect of the aircraft to ensure it was fully functional and they pushed it to the limits of the flight envelope, ensuring the safety of future pilots.
Now, the same aircraft that was stagnant for two years is flying high, being used to train the world’s premier aerial fighting force.