WASHINGTON ― Scores of the Navy’s T-45 trainer jets were unable to evacuate Naval Air Station Kingsville and remain directly in the path of what is projected to be the worst hurricane to hit South Texas in decades.
On Thursday, NAS Kingsville, which houses 99 of the Navy’s 197 T-45 primary jet trainers, evacuated all airworthy aircraft ― if there was also a qualified pilot to fly.
But only 28 of Kingsville’s T-45s were determined to be airworthy, or to have a qualified pilot available, in order to evacuate the jets to Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth, said spokesman Kevin Clarke.
The remaining 71 aircraft were put in hangars on base, Clarke said. There they will ride out Harvey’s 90 mph or more winds, any remnants from the anticipated 12-foot storm surge and potentially 35 inches of rain. The storm is expected to make landfall late Friday or early Saturday as a category 3 hurricane.
Kingsville, unlike nearby Navy flight training base NAS Corpus Christi, is located about 30 miles inland. That distance should give Kingsville’s aircraft and hangars better protection against any storm surge, Clarke said.
NAS Corpus Christi on the other hand is located on the shore of Corpus Christi Bay. It issued a mandatory evacuation Thursday. It took some steps to protect its computers, equipment at the resident Corpus Christi Army Depot and other assets from the storm surge that is projected to hit the installation directly.
NAS Corpus Christi also sent its airworthy T-44s and T-6 trainer aircraft to Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth, it was not immediately clear how many aircraft were able to fly.
The rest of the Navy’s T-45s are split between Navy bases in Meridian, Mississippi, and Pensacola, Florida. The jets provide all Navy and Marine Corps aviators primary jet training, which culminates in their first carrier landing.
The jets were grounded earlier this year and all training suspended after cockpit oxygen system failures led to multiple incidents of pilot disorientation.
The T-45s that did evacuate Kingsville flew under a 10,000 foot ceiling to avoid any potential oxygen issues, said base spokesman Rod Hafemeister.