Last week, Air Education and Training Command (AETC) grounded the entire T-6 fleet, suspending pilot training force-wide for a couple of days while it contended with an oil line chafing issue. Apparently, a bracket holding the High Pressure Oil Line in place was incorrectly installed on some aircraft, creating the possibility of long-term wear and consequent oil leakage that could necessitate shutdown of the airplane’s lone engine. This is an eventuality T-6 pilots train for constantly.
Some folks within the command admired how the issue was handled, with students airborne within just a few days after the stand down was called. Others were more critical, calling the move ultra-conservative and criticizing headquarters for failing to rapidly inspect the fleet, the vast majority of which remained airworthy and needn’t have been grounded at all.
Apparently, this isn’t the first fleet-wide maintenance issue to cripple the T-6 in recent times, and won’t be the last. Ever since the Air Force changed supply contractors a few years ago, there have been persistent problems with spare part availability. Some in the community fault contracting officials who they say did not ensure supply chain viability prior to pulling the trigger on a new contractor. It is said that these issues are preventing Laughlin from meeting its production targets, with Columbus not far behind.
Rumors also swirl that AETC will hire contract civilian pilots to teach the T-6 phase due to a shortage of qualified military instructor pilots. This after the service sent 386 mobility-coded pilots packing in last year’s drawdown, even as it failed to meet retention targets and assured observers there was no danger of a pilot shortage. Those reassurances have since been exposes as pure fantasy, with the service offering bloated bonuses as it panics to maintain a stable of qualified flyers. A recently published study from RAND projects a 1000-pilot shortage by 2021, raising serious questions about the ability of the service to meet its obligations.
But even amid this shortfall, pilot training instructors continue to get orders for extended deployments to the Combined Air Operations Center in Qatar, where many do work that could be done from a computer terminal anywhere in the world for a lot less money.