T-38

A T-38 takes off from Vance Air Force Base in this file photo. (Billy Hefton / Enid News & Eagle)

SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas — A Vance Air Force Base pilot was hospitalized after he and another pilot ejected from a T-38 Talon aircraft Tuesday morning during training operations with the 80th Flying Training Wing at Sheppard Air Force Base, near Wichita Falls, Texas, according to a Vance Air Force Base press release.

1st Lt. Charles T. Walet, who is assigned to the 71st Flying Training Wing at Vance, was on temporary duty at Sheppard. In the aircraft with Walet was German Air Force pilot Maj. Christian C. Hartmann.

According to the Vance press release, the aircraft, which was assigned to the 80th FTW, went off the runway prior to takeoff at about 10:13 a.m. Tuesday at Sheppard AFB.

Both pilots ejected, according to the press release. Hartmann was treated for minor injuries at the Sheppard Clinic. Walet was taken to United Regional Medical Center in Wichita Falls as a precaution, according to the press release, and is reported to be in stable condition.

“We are grateful both aircrew members are safe, and for the outstanding response from our fire, security and medical personnel," said Col. Lendy Renegar, 80th Flying Training Wing vice commander. "We also greatly appreciate the many expressions of support from leaders and members in our local community.”

"We're relieved both pilots successfully ejected the aircraft and stand ready to assist Sheppard in any way we can," said Col. Corey Simmons, commander of the 71st Flying Training Wing at Vance.

The 80th Flying Training Wing operates the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training program, which trains combat pilots for 14 partner nations — Germany, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Greece, Italy, The Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States, according to the press release.

Sheppard’s T-38 fleet completed a $185 million upgrade to new ejection seats in 2013, which allow the aircrew to achieve "zero/zero" ejections, from zero feet altitude at zero velocity.

Terri Schaefer, Vance chief of public affairs, confirmed Tuesday Vance's T-38s also have been retrofitted with the zero/zero-capable ejection seats.

Emergency crews responded to the scene immediately to provide medical support to the aircrew and also extinguished a small fire in and around the aircraft, according to the press release. An explosive ordnance disposal team from Fort Sill also responded as a precaution, to ensure all the explosive material associated with the ejection seats was safely expended. The scene was declared safe for recovery operations at about 12:45 p.m.

The Vance press release stated an investigation into the mishap is underway and "the Air Force will not speculate on possible causes until the investigation is complete."

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Neal is health, military affairs and religion reporter and columnist for the Enid News & Eagle. Follow him on Twitter, @jamesnealwriter, and online at jamesrneal.com. He can be reached at jneal@enidnews.com.

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