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NTSB Wants Military Plane Grounded

May 28, 1999

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A federal safety panel recommended Friday that a type of old military plane used in civilian combat simulations be temporarily grounded because it can lose its wings in sharp turns, as apparently happened in a recent fatal crash.

The Beech T-34A, a plane bought by the Air Force in 1950 and later used by the Navy as well, appears to be straining under the heavy gravity of the turns and dives common in classes in which civilians engage in mock combat in planes flown by flight instructors.

The grounding should last until a proper inspection program is developed, the National Transportation Safety Board said in a letter to the Federal Aviation Administration.

The FAA said it planned to issue an order as early as Saturday requiring that a placard be placed in the cockpit of T-34s spelling out performance limitations for the plane. It will say that the plane’s speed cannot exceed 175 mph, that acrobatic maneuvers are prohibited and that normal acceleration cannot surpass 2.5 times the weight of gravity, or 2.5 Gs.

As to the recommendation about grounding the planes, FAA spokeswoman Diane Spitaliere said, ``We’re starting with the placards as an immediate action; this was underway before we received the NTSB recommendation. We’ll review that before deciding if any further actions are needed.″

The safety board said excessive ``G-loading″ may have caused the right wing of a T-34A to tear off on April 19 over Rydall, Ga., sending the plane plummeting to the ground and killing the pilot and his passenger. The plane was operated by Sky Warriors Inc. of Atlanta. The crash killed retired Delta pilot Floyd ``Ted″ McFann Sr., 60, of Alpharetta, Ga., and Delta pilot Daniel Bouck, 51, of Atlanta.

Investigators found extensive fatigue cracking around the wing and in similar areas on the left wing, which remained on the plane but was heavily damaged in the crash. The safety board also learned that cracks had been found in the lower wing spar of a T-34 operated by Texas Air Aces of Spring, Texas, although the parts in that plane were replaced and discarded prior to the accident in Rydall.

There is at least one other air combat operator, although the board did not name the company.

While Sky Warriors asked its pilots not to engage in dives or rolls that created strains exceeding four times the weight of gravity, the safety board said a videotape of the fatal flight contained a spoken excerpt in which the pilot told the passenger they had just made a 4.5- to 5-G turn. One of Sky Warriors’ T-34s reportedly exceeded 12-G loading during one mission.

The plane was originally certified to 6 Gs.

``The safety board has found no other examples of possible wing-structure fatigue cracking in the long history of the T-34 series of airplanes,″ Jim Hall, chairman of the NTSB, wrote in a letter to FAA Administrator Jane Garvey.

``The safety board believes that air combat simulation flights may induce a larger number of high positive wing loading events per hour than other operations,″ Hall added. ``Considering these factors, it is likely that the fatigue cracking on the accident airplane was the result of the loading conditions experienced during the air combat simulation flights.″

The board acknowledged that the current certificate-holder for the T-34, the Raytheon Aircraft Co., issued a safety communique May 19 recommending that the planes not be flown until the FAA makes any decisions stemming from the investigation.

But Hall said that since the action is not mandatory, the FAA should ``immediately restrict from further flight″ all such planes used in air combat simulations until an inspection can be developed. The safety board also said no more T-34s should enter combat simulation service without the upcoming inspection.

A call to Sky Warriors in Atlanta was answered with a recorded message saying the company was not operating pending the outcome of the investigation. A message left on the line seeking comment was not immediately returned.

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