During initial takeoff from Offutt AFB, Neb. on April 30, a leak in the high pressure oxygen system in the rear cabin of a RC-135V Rivet Joint assigned to the 343rd Reconnaissance Squadron led to a fire that burned a hole through the aircraft’s upper fuselage, according to a newly released Air Combat Command Accident Investigation Board report. The pilot immediately aborted the mission, and evacuated the aircraft on the ground as fire crews arrived. The fire, which occurred during a routine training mission in support of an Air Force Special Operations Command exercise, burned through the rear galley area of the aircraft, damaging both the aircraft’s structure and its control and mission systems (repair costs are estimated at $62.4 million, according to the AIB findings). According to the report, failure by the contractor depot maintenance personnel from L3 Communications to properly tighten a retaining nut connecting a metal oxygen tube to a fitting above the galley caused the oxygen leak, which led to a “highly flammable oxygen rich environment that ignited.” The fire then melted the retaining nut, leading the tubing to detach, which fed more oxygen into the fire, causing “severe damage” to the galley area. Four crewmembers received treatment for minor smoke inhalation. (Full report here, PDF file).
Changes are coming this year for Airmen taking professional military education (PME) distance learning courses. Closer interactions with facilitators, a revised capstone course, and more feedback on test performance are meant to improve the overall experience for distance learning students, who often include members of the Air National Guard.