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Last two T-38s get avionics upgrade

by Master Sgt. Jon Hanson
Air Education and Training Command Public Affairs

9/5/2007 - RANDOLPH AIR FORCE BASE, Texas (AFPN) -- The Air Force closed another chapter in the T-38 Talon aircraft modification process as the last two upgraded aircraft arrived the end of August at Randolph Air Force Base.

The aircraft underwent such a major change that Air Force officials redesignated it the T-38C.

"The last two aircraft being delivered marks a new generation of the T-38," said Lt. Col. James Garrett, the chief of Air Education and Training Command undergraduate flying training requirements. "It is the same airplane, but the brain of that aircraft has changed so much that it really is a whole new aircraft."

The delivery culminated an approximately 11-year avionics upgrade program, commonly referred to as AUP. The AUP -- along with an ongoing propulsion modernization, an ejection seat upgrade, and an improved braking system -- should extend the life cycle of the T-38C through 2020.

"We are continuously modernizing the aircraft. The AUP was the most recent major program to upgrade the aircraft," Colonel Garrett said. "The instrumentation of the T-38 was getting so old that we were starting to run into a lot of maintainability and repair and replacement problems."

The upgrades replaced the old analog gauges with digital avionics, better known as a "glass cockpit." This improves reliability, as well as maintenance and support of the aircraft. Because it is all digital, changes can be fed directly into the system versus older, more time-consuming methods of making changes.

This is a huge leap forward in bringing the T-38 in pace with the more modern aircraft in the Air Force inventory, the colonel said. It reduces a lot of extra training time when pilots trained on the T-38C go to their follow-on units because they no longer are unfamiliar with a glass cockpit with digital interface.

"We had a T-38 we used for undergraduate pilot training and we had a separate modified T-38 that we used for IFF (Introduction to Fighter Fundamentals). The T-38C really is one aircraft we use for both," Colonel Garrett said. "So the capabilities of the aircraft were increased to the point where even the basic undergraduate pilot model is capable as functioning as an IFF aircraft as well. It gave a little more common configuration for AETC to work with."

Another upgrade was allowing for a no-drop bomb scoring system. The IFF students can now make range runs and get a simulated bomb run without ever dropping any ordnance off the aircraft. Using airspeed, altitude and other data, the new computers can accurately determine where a bomb would fall once the button is pushed.

"The AUP has been a dramatic upgrade to the airplane and we are very happy with the product we have," Colonel Garrett said. "With any new program there tends to be growing pains in it, but with the digital system like AUP one of the advantages is it is largely software based. This allows us to go back to the software designers to fix any glitches we find."

Even though the avionics upgrade program is complete, it will take a few more years before all of the modifications to the T-38C are completed in fiscal year 2015.

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