Air Combat Chief Doesn’t Expect Crash to Derail OA-X Effort

By Yasmin Tadjdeh
A-29 Super Tucano

Credit: Air Force

A recent fatal crash of an A-29 Super Tucano is unlikely to put the kibosh on the Air Force’s light attack experiment, the commander of Air Combat Command said June 28.

On June 22, a Super Tucano participating in the effort — also known as OA-X — crashed over the Red Rio Bombing Range, which is part of the White Sands Missile Range north of Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico. One pilot, Navy Lt. Christopher Carey Short, was killed, and another suffered minor injuries.

Air Force Gen. James "Mike" Holmes said flight operations are currently suspended as the service stands up an investigation and safety review, but noted that he didn’t expect the crash to derail the project.

“I don’t think it will have a chilling effect on future experiments,” Holmes told reporters during a meeting in Washington, D.C. “Without knowing exactly what happened and certainly without trying to insinuate what happened, aviation is not necessarily risky ... and we’re going to learn new things.”

The OA-X effort kicked off last year to study the feasibility of using an off-the-shelf platform as a low-cost solution for light attack and close-air support missions. Originally, the experiment included four aircraft including Sierra Nevada Corp. and Embraer’s A-29 Super Tucano turboprop; Textron Aviation’s Scorpion jet and AT-6 Wolverine turboprop; and Air Tractor Inc.’s AT-802L Longsword turboprop supported by L3’s Platform Integration Division. 

The second iteration of the experiment — which kicked off in May — whittled it down to two aircraft, the A-29 and the AT-6, Holmes said.

“The purpose of this second light attack experiment was to fill in some data points about the first one,” he said. It was “largely focused on what it would take to support the airplane, … what kind of sorties rates can you fly with it and how would you budget for a program on the sustainment and support side.”

Holmes said it was premature to give details on the cause of the crash as the safety board continues with its investigation, or to speculate on next steps.

“We’ll take a look at the data we gathered. We’ll continue ahead with our process toward deciding whether we want to go forward with the program and, again, we mourn the loss of Lt. Short and we appreciate his commitment to trying to find out how to do this,” he said. “I’m not concerned that the accident will have an undue effect on how we go forward.”

Because there is no operational mission associated with the program, the service is able to pause the effort and wait until it gets information about the initial indications of what happened before it makes its next move, Holmes noted.

For now, there is no reason to believe that the cause of the crash is related specifically to the A-29 fleet, he added.

Col. Houston Cantwell, commander of Holloman's 49th Wing, praised Short's contributions to the Air Force.

“He did pioneering work in aviation that will help shape American air power for years to come,” he said in a statement. “We're thankful to have known him and grateful for his devotion to duty.”


Topics: Air Force News, Air Power

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