Plane crash reported near Columbus Air Force Base

Emergency crews on scene near the site of the plane crash (Photo by Steve Rogers/DTL)
The location of Wednesday's crash
SDN Staff
Staff Writer

Two airmen ejected to safety as their T-38 jet training aircraft crashed just north of Columbus Air Force Base at about 8:15 a.m. Wednesday morning.

The crash came 10 years and one month since the last CAFB-related crash -- a T-38 on April 23, 2008 that claimed two lives.

It's unclear if the pilots were trying to get back to the base when the crash occurred. The site is just north of the base near the intersection of old Highway 373 and the gravel Barton Ferry Road near what is commonly known as the old north gate. The area is remote with no houses or buildings nearby. It is near a lake and some swampy areas.

Base personnel were restricting access to the scene but confirmed the two pilots were safe. They have been taken to Baptist Memorial Hospital-Golden Triangle for evaluation, according to a CAFB press release.

Firefighters from the base and the county have extinguished the fire caused by the crash.

Smoke from the crash site could be seen for 20 miles in almost every direction.

The Northrop T-38 Talon is a two-seat, twinjet supersonic jet trainer. It was the world's first supersonic trainer and is also the most produced. The T-38 remains in service as of 2018 in several air forces.

At CAFB, the planes flew 10,902 sorties in fiscal year 2016, second most among the 56,642 sorties flown from the base that year.

The base has 58 Talons assigned to standard flight training and 29 more assigned to the fighter pilot program that was moved to the base seven years ago.

According to CAFB, the T-38C is an upgraded T-38A, sometimes known as the "glass cockpit" variant, because its improved avionics and support systems are close to what pilots will use when they move on to advanced assignments.

According to Wikipedia, the United States Air Force (USAF) operates the most T-38s. In addition to training USAF pilots, the T-38 is used by NASA. The U.S. Naval Test Pilot School is the principal US Navy operator (other T-38s were previously used as USN aggressor aircraft until replaced by the similar Northrop F-5 Tiger II). Pilots of other NATO nations fly the T-38 in joint training programs with USAF pilots.

As of 2018, the T-38 has been in service for over 50 years with its original operator, the United States Air Force, although the Air Force has said it plans to replace the venerable aircraft with a more modern trainer although that competition has not been completed.

Ironically, CAFB just completed a mandatory military-wide pause May 14 to review safety procedures, mechanics and other issues. That order came after a series of crashes since the first of the year raised alarms among military leaders.

Those mandatory one-day "pauses" or reviews had to be completed by Monday.

The T-38 has what is considered an "exceptional" safety record during its 50-year history. According to Air Force and federal statistics, more than 210 aircraft losses and ejections have been documented over the lifetime of the T-38.

Two fatal crashes in 2008, on April 23 at Columbus Air Force Base and on May 1 at Sheppard Air Force Base in Wichita Falls, Texas, resulted in four fatalities, causing the Air Force to temporarily ground the aircraft.

On May 21, 2009, a T-38 crashed just north of Edwards Air Force Base in the Mojave Desert.A T-38 crashed on Nov. 20, 2017, near Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas, killing one of two instructor pilots aboard.

This is a developing story. Follow the Starkville Daily News for updates.