The U.S. Air Force has suspended flying for its light-attack aircraft experiment while it investigates the recent fatal crash of one of the participating planes, the head of Air Combat Command (ACC) said June 28.

“We haven’t figured out what happened yet,” Gen. James “Mike” Holmes told the Defense Writers Group. “Because there’s no operational mission here, we’re able to take a pause and wait until we get at least the initial indications of what happened.” 

Air Force Gen. James "Mike" Holmes, commander of Air Combat Command. Photo: USAF.
Air Force Gen. James “Mike” Holmes, commander of Air Combat Command. Photo: USAF.

The Air Force is also looking at whether it collected enough data from the experiment or will need to eventually resume flying to gather more. The experiment began in May and has been slated to end in July.

An A-29 Super Tucano turboprop from Sierra Nevada Corp. (SNC) and Embraer Defense & Security crashed June 22 during a training flight, killing one of its two aircrew members (Defense Daily, June 25). The experiment’s other participant is the AT-6 Wolverine turboprop from Textron [TXT] Aviation Defense.

The Air Force has been conducting the experiment at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico to increase its understanding of light-attack aircraft and pave the way for a possible procurement. The service has said that the low-cost planes could ease the anti-terrorism workload on its expensive fighter jets and improve interoperability with allies that cannot afford fighters.

Holmes said he does not expect the crash to derail the Air Force process for considering light-attack aircraft. The Senate Appropriations Committee, in its newly released fiscal year 2019 defense appropriations bill, seemed to back up his assertion by adding $300 million to the Air Force’s budget request for light-attack procurement.

Holmes also said he does not expect the mishap to have a chilling effect on future experimentation.

“Whenever you’re trying something new, there are risks of trying something new and working through it,” he told the writers group.

This year’s experiment, which builds on a four-plane flight demonstration conducted last year, has been focusing on communication networks, interoperability with allies, logistics, maintenance, sensors, training and weapons.