• U.S.

An Air Force Plane Gets Grounded Forever

2 minute read
Mark Thompson/Washington

The Air Force has finally decided what to do with its barely flown fleet of 106 training airplanes: Concede that it’s high-flying junk.

It has taken nearly a decade since TIME brought the matter to national attention to, but the Air Force this week concluded that’s what its fleet of T-3 trainers really is. It made the decision to scrap the fleet altogether nine years after the Air Force grounded the planes in the wake of three fatal accidents — each of which killed a highly trained Air Force instructor pilot and a fledging Air Force pilot.

The British-built Slingsby T-3A Firefly was selected in 1992 to replace the T-41 aircraft. It was a more demanding plane, designed to weed out poor pilots. But after the three fatal crashes, the service grounded the planes in 1997. “The T-41 is your grandmother’s airplane,” Merrill McPeak, the general running the Air Force when the program began, told TIME several months later. “Our mission is to train warrior-pilots, not dentists to fly their families to Acapulco.” But the Air Force disagreed, and ultimately ended the more demanding flight-training program that General McPeak had championed. The service also found that making the planes airworthy for subsequent sale was prohibitive (they have had no maintenance since their grounding, and many were damaged by hail, Air Force officials say).

So in a statement issued Monday, the service’s Air Education and Training Command’s said it had decided “to salvage the aircraft in place.” In other words, the Air Force has agreed to pay a metal-recycling company $12,000 to get rid of the airplanes that cost taxpayers $42 million, including $10 million in failed fixes, to procure. “The aircraft will be completely destroyed and the scrap metal value will be used to off set the disposal cost,” the Air Force said. The job is due to be finished by September 25. After taking nine years to decide what to do with the planes, it’s going to take only two weeks to turn them into scrap.

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