An Air Force instructor pilot successfully ejected from his T-38C Talon trainer jet when it malfunctioned upon takeoff Monday afternoon.

The unnamed airman with the 49th Flying Training Squadron at Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi, was heading out on a routine flight around 1 p.m. local time when the jet became “inoperable,” said Col. Jeremy Bergin, vice commander of the 14th Flying Training Wing at Columbus, during a press conference Monday.

At the time of the crash, the airman was flying alongside another instructor pilot who was scheduled for “continuation training,” or a sortie to keep their flight qualifications up-to-date. Both pilots were flying their jets solo.

Shortly after takeoff, the wingman’s T-38C crashed in a field on private property near the base, Bergin said. Nearby bystanders helped get the airman to an ambulance, which brought him to a local hospital for treatment.

The base said Tuesday evening that the pilot had been released from the hospital with minor injuries and is expected to resume flying soon.

“We spend a lot of time training our IPs to be prepared for emergency situations,” Bergin said. “It was clearly evident in this case that our individual was well-prepared to handle whatever mishap he had experienced.”

Meanwhile, the Air Force has opened an investigation into what caused the crash. The jet’s wreckage is not salvageable.

Training flights are continuing as normal, a Columbus spokesperson said.

This is the eighth major T-38C mishap in the past five years, according to the Air Force Safety Center. Six people have died in Talon accidents in that same time frame.

The airframe averages at least one crash that is fatal, causes permanent disability or costs more than $2.5 million in damages per 100,000 flight hours.

Bergin insisted that the Talon remains “safe and reliable.”

T-38Cs entered the fleet in 1961, when they cost about $750,000 apiece.

The Air Force now owns 445 Talons, most of which are spread across Columbus; Vance AFB, Oklahoma; and Laughlin AFB, Texas. The supersonic jets are used to teach new pilots to fly fighter and bomber aircraft before they move onto their assigned airframes.

Rachel Cohen is the editor of Air Force Times. She joined the publication as its senior reporter in March 2021. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Frederick News-Post (Md.), Air and Space Forces Magazine, Inside Defense, Inside Health Policy and elsewhere.

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