Air Force Light Attack Demo Halted in Wake of Fatal A-29 Accident

A Embraer EMB 314 Super Tucano A-29 experimental aircraft flies over White Sands Missile Range. (U.S. Air Force/Ethan D. Wagner)
A Embraer EMB 314 Super Tucano A-29 experimental aircraft flies over White Sands Missile Range. (U.S. Air Force/Ethan D. Wagner)

The U.S. Air Force's light attack demo remains in a holding pattern following the A-29 Super Tucano crash at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, last week which killed a Navy pilot, a top general said Thursday.

Air Combat Command commander Gen. Mike "Mobile" Holmes told reporters that in the wake of the fatal mishap, the flights for the OA-X test have been suspended amid the ongoing accident investigation, and will remain on hold until officials can decide if more testing is even needed.

"We've suspended flying operations while we stand up the safety board," Holmes said during a breakfast in Washington, D.C.

Lt. Christopher Carey Short, of Canandaigua, New York, was piloting the A-29 when it crashed over the Red Rio Bombing Range within White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, on June 22. At the time of the crash, two pilots were onboard.

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The other pilot "suffered minor injuries and was airlifted to a local hospital," the service said in a release at the time.

Test units at Holloman were conducting Phase II of the Air Force "light attack" experiment, an element of the service's effort to procure a new fleet of lightweight, inexpensive aircraft. After Phase I was completed in August, the Air Force selected two aircraft -- the Textron Aviation AT-6 Wolverine and the Sierra Nevada/Embraer A-29 Super Tucano -- to undergo more demonstration fly-offs, among other tests, at Holloman.

Holmes said Air Force Material Command as well as various Air Force acquisition agencies are deliberating whether the experiment thus far has gathered enough data for officials to make a decision on a potential future program.

"Those are decisions they're working through now," Holmes said.

Holmes said he was not worried the recent crash would negatively impact the demo, or future aircraft experiments.

"I don't think this will have a chilling effect on future experiments," he said. "Whenever you're trying something new there are risks."

Holmes added he did not want to speculate on the cause of the crash.

"We haven't figured out what happened yet," he said.

He continued, "Aviation isn't necessarily risky, but it's unforgiving, and when you're going to learn new things, you learn new things."

Holmes said the purpose of the second light attack experiment was to "fill in some data points" and compare them to data from the first experiment.

The project's overseers were "largely focused on what will it take to support the airplane, what kind of sortie rates can you fly with it, and how would you budget for a program on the sustainment and the support side," Holmes said of the recent AT-6 and A-29 flights.

The Phase II demonstrations began May 7 and were expected to run through July, with Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson and Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein expected to fly the aircraft at some point during the demo.

"We're certainly very sad about the loss of Lt. Chris Short, a great aviator who was dedicated to trying to figure out what the answers were," Holmes said.

"We appreciate his commitment to trying to find out how to do this, and we'll continue to work forward," he added.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @oriana0214.

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