Shortly before noon on Friday, U.S. Navy Lt. Christopher Casey Short died and another pilot received minor injuries when their A-29 Super Tucano light attack plane crashed near Holloman Air Force Base within the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. Short, who grew up in Canandaigua, New York, was hailed as a pioneer by the commander of the 49th Wing out of Holloman, Col. Houston Cantwell:
There’s no way to describe the shock of this loss and the sadness we feel for his family. He did pioneering work in aviation that will help shape American air power for years to come. We’re thankful to have known him and grateful for his devotion to duty.”
The Navy remained tight lipped about the incident for the better part of 36 hours, acknowledging only that there had been a crash and that two pilots were involved. The incident itself is under investigation, with few details released to the public thus far.
The A-29 was participating in the second phase of the U.S. Air Force’s light attack aircraft experiment, which aims to field less expensive combat aircraft in operations that don’t require the advanced capabilities allotted by platforms like the F-35, which are not only far more expensive to produce, but far more expensive to operate per flight hour.
The A-29 was set to square off against another light attack aircraft, the AT-6, later on Friday as a part of the ongoing competition to secure a contract as a most cost effective combat platform in the U.S. arsenal. Despite looking like a call back to a different era in military aviation, the A-29 isn’t an unheard of platform for uniformed pilots in the United States — the U.S. has long used them as trainer aircraft for foreign students, particularly those coming from the Afghan air force. The platform itself has seen use in harsh environments all over the world and is not being developed for the purposes of the Light Attack competition, but is rather already in production — making the aircraft far more cost effective than platforms designed specifically for U.S. defense applications.
The remainder of the tests associated with the competition were cancelled on Friday and it’s unclear when they will begin again, or how this crash will effect competition between air platforms. Tests and demonstrations, which commenced in May and are slated to continue through July, are supposed to include flights aboard each platform by Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein.
It can be expected that such tests will be postponed until some conclusions are made about what caused the crash and whether or not the issue may extend to other A-29 aircraft.
This crash is the latest in a slew of aircraft incidents plaguing the U.S. Defense apparatus in recent months, many of which have been attributed to reduced training and limited maintenance permitted as a result of budgetary issues including sequestration and delayed budget approvals.
You can read the U.S. Air Force press release regarding the incident below:
Image courtesy of the Department of Defense