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Mon, Sep 11, 2006

Air Force To Scrap All T-3A Trainers

Six USAFA Members Perished In Flawed Aircraft

The US Air Force has announced  that it will scrap all 110 remaining T-3A Firefly training aircraft in the fleet. And in this case, scrapping means all the way down to the scrap bin/smelter.

The planes were grounded in 1997 after numerous incidents and three crashes that killed three Air Force Academy students along with their instructors.

In 1993, the Air Force purchased 113 British-made Slingsby T-3A Fireflys for a total of $32 million. After spending another ten million dollars following the grounding, the planes still could not be made airworthy.

The Firefly was procured for the Enhanced Flight Screening Program to replace the highly successful, but limited, Cessna T-41 Mescalero (a derivative of the ubiquitous C-172) that had been used for decades. From 1993 to 1995, the aircraft were delivered to Hondo, Texas, near the Air Education and Training Command (AETC) headquartered at Randolph Air Force Base in San Antonio and some were then sent up to the academy.

The British Royal Air Force still employs the T-67 variant of aircraft for training and the Canadian Air Force used the Slingsby until earlier this year.

Two of the accidents occurred in training areas near El Paso, TX, and one near Colorado Springs where the Air Force Academy is based. While the Air Force attributed two of the fatal mishaps to pilot error, all three accidents involved problems with the engine, a six cylinder Textron Lycoming AEIO-540-D4A5 generating 260 hp driving a three-bladed prop.

According to GlobalSecurity.org, the T-3A's engine had failed 66 times during takeoffs or landings. The Air Force grounded 57 of the planes on ten separate occasions due to problems with either engines, fuel systems, or brakes.

"We critically challenged ourselves as to what was the right moral policy and economical and legal decision and were led to completely salvage these airplanes, because we no longer have a mission for this aircraft," David Smith, news division chief with Air Education and Training Command's public affairs office, told The Gazette of Colorado Springs. He added, "The aircraft has been sitting for nine years, so to get them to FAA certification you'd almost have to rebuild the airplanes. It was found to be totally cost-prohibitive."

The Firefly was never replaced, but instead a new program was instituted. Approximately 150 private flight schools are now contracted to offer student flight screening to Air Force ROTC students and AF Academy cadets, using conventional civilian trainers.

After the grounding, 106 aircraft were stored without maintenance at Hondo and Colorado Springs, and another four sat at Edwards AFB in California.  TOTALL Metal Recycling Inc. won the contract, agreeing to pay scrap value plus twelve thousand dollars, according to the Gazette.

On Monday, the destruction begins. By Sept. 25, there will not be a single example of the troubled Air Force T-3A Firefly in existence.

FMI:  AF Air Education & Training Command
 

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