The T-38 Talon is a twin-engine, high-altitude, supersonic jet trainer used in a variety of roles because of its design, economy of operations, ease of maintenance, high performance and exceptional safety record. It is used primarily by Air Education and Training Command for undergraduate pilot and pilot instructor training. Air Combat Command, Air Mobility Command and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration also use the T-38 in various roles.
The T-38 has swept-back wings, a streamlined fuselage and tricycle landing gear with a steerable nose wheel. Two independent hydraulic systems power the ailerons, flaps, rudder and other flight control surfaces. The instructor and student sit in tandem on rocket-powered ejection seats in a pressurized, air-conditioned cockpit. Critical components are waist high and can be easily reached by maintenance crews. Refueling and preflight inspections are easily performed. The T-38 needs as little as 2,300 feet (695.2 meters) of runway to take off and can climb from sea level to nearly 30,000 feet (9,068 meters) in one minute.
Student pilots fly the T-38A to learn supersonic techniques, aerobatics, formation, night and instrument flying and cross-country navigation. More than 60,000 pilots have earned their wings in the T-38A. Test pilots and flight test engineers are trained in T-38A's at the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. Air Force Materiel Command uses T-38A's to test experimental equipment such as electrical and weapon systems.
Advanced training for the bomber-fighter track is accomplished using the T-38 Talon and prepares pilots for transition to fighter and bomber aircraft. The T-38 is a tandem seat twin-engine supersonic jet. There is increased emphasis on formation, navigation, and low level navigation flying. Training takes approximately 26 weeks and includes 381 hours of ground training, 31.6 hours in the flight simulator and 118.7 flying hours in the T-38.
Pilots from most North Atlantic Treaty Organization countries are trained in the T-38A at Sheppard AFB, Texas, through the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training Program. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration uses T-38A aircraft as trainers for astronauts and as observers and chase planes on programs such as the space shuttle.
Air Education and Training Command uses a modified version, the AT-38B, to prepare pilots for fighter aircraft such as the F-15, F-16 and A-10. and F-111. This model carries external armament and weapons delivery equipment for training. The Talon first flew in 1959. More than 1,100 were delivered to the Air Force between 1961 and 1972 when production ended. Approximately 562 remain in service throughout the Air Force.
An ongoing program called Pacer Classic, the structural life extension program for the T-38, is integrating 10 modifications, including major structural renewal, into one process. As a result, the service life of T-38s should extend to the 2010. Additionally, the introduction of the T-1A Jayhawk significantly relieved the T-38's work load.
Air Education and Training Command's AT-38Bs are scheduled to be converted to the "C" model. This conversion entails an upgrade of the aircraft's avionics system that closely mirrors what the pilots will see in their follow on fighter training, such as a modern glass cockpit and a Heads Up Display (HUD). AETC's AT-38B will also receive some new instruments to make use of the Global Positioning System's satellites. More than 500 aircraft are slated to be modified under the terms of the $750 million contract with the Boeing Co., called the T-38C Avionics Upgrade Program. Upgraded AT-38B models will thereafter be referred to as "T-38C" aircraft. The cost of the upgrade is $600,000 per aircraft and is done as part of the $750 million contract with Boeing.
The T-38C is a converted T-38A aircraft and is sometimes called the "glass cockpit" because of its improved avionics and support systems, making it closer in design to F-15E Strike Eagle, F-16 Fighting Falcon and F-22 Raptor cockpits. Fighter aircraft employ highly complex avionics that aren't available in the T-38 A and B models. Only a small percentage of the necessary avionics-related skills and knowledge transfer from the T-38 A and B (aircraft) to initial fighter training aircraft.
The A- and B-model aircraft avionics systems are 40 years old and suffer from low reliability and have high-maintenance time, and the T-38Cs will correct these problems. The T-38C is expected to reduce overall maintenance costs by replacing several mechanical displays with just a few state-of-the-art computer displays. A comprehensive built-in test system, which should identify faulty components, will simplify troubleshooting and reduce aircraft turnaround times. Significant enhancements incorporated into the T-38C include a global positioning system satellite receiver, a ring-laser gyro-inertial navigation system, a radar altimeter, a collision-avoidance system and an instrument-flight certified heads-up display.
Supplementing the T-38C conversion is the purchase of three new types of new simulators: the unit training device, which includes a cockpit with a 40-degree field-of-view display and an instructor operating station; the operational flight trainer; and the weapons-system trainer, which offers IFF pilots more realistic air-to-air training simulation.
AETC will use the C model T-38s to transition graduate-level pilots into more advanced bomber-fighter aircraft used by Air Force major commands. The trainers will be used for three key training courses in the command: specialized undergraduate pilot training; introduction to fighter fundamentals at Moody Air Force Base, Ga.; and instructor pilot training at Randolph AFB, Texas.
Air Education and Training Command took another step in modernizing its forces when a newly modified T-38C Talon landed at Columbus AFB on 23 July 2002, becoming a permanent part of the aircraft inventory. Columbus will receive seven jets a month until it reaches its full complement of 66. The T-38As now at the base will be sent to Boeing in Mesa, Ariz., for conversion to the "C" models. More than 500 aircraft will be modified under the program with 454 going to AETC bases.
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