The T-43A is a medium-range, swept-wing jet aircraft. Equipped with modern navigation and communications equipment to train navigators for strategic and tactical aircraft, the T-43A is primarily used in the Air Force's undergraduate navigator training program. Several T-43s are configured for passengers and provide operational support to assigned commands and the Air National Guard.
The T-43A is the Air Force version of the Boeing 737 transport. One jet engine is mounted under each wing. The exterior differences between the military and commercial aircraft include the addition of many small blade-type antennas, sextant ports, a wire antenna for high-frequency radio and fewer windows.
The aircraft has considerably more training capability than the plane it replaced, the T-29C. Inside each T-43A training compartment are two minimum proficiency, two maxiumum proficiency and 12 student stations. Two stations form a console, and instructors can move their seats to the consoles and sit beside students for individual instruction. The large cabin allows easy access to seating and storage, yet reduces the distance between student stations and instructor positions.
The student training compartment is equipped with advanced avionics gear identical to that of Air Force operational aircraft. This includes mapping radar; VOR (VHF omnirange) and TACAN (tactical air navigation) radio systems; inertial navigation system; radar altimeter; and all required communications equipment. Five periscopic sextants spaced along the length of the training compartment are used for celestial navigation training.
The majority of the T-43A trainers are used for navigator training at Randolph Air Force Base, Texas, where the Air Force also trains Air National Guard, Air Force Reserve, U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine and international students. The remaining planes are assigned to the Air National Guard at Buckley Air National Guard Base, Colo., where they are used for the U.S. Air Force Academy's airmanship program and to provide travel service for academy sports teams. In addition, U.S. Southern Command has a CT-43 used for commander transport.
The first T-43A was delivered to the Air Force at Mather Air Force Base, Calif., in September 1973. The last deliveries were made in July 1974. Air Education and Training Command's T-43 fleet relocated to Randolph Air Force Base, Texas, in May, 1993, due to the closure of Mather AFB.
In mid-2000 the Lockheed Martin Advanced Prototype Center, part of the Advanced Development Programs' (ADP) organization, handed over its first major deliverable -- a flight-worthy composite structure -- on the center's first design and fabrication contract. The structure, a 19-foot long, 6.2-foot diameter fairing and bulkhead assembly, was delivered to customer DENMAR Inc. The prime contractor Denmar is a company specializing in stealth technology. The "Den" stands for President Denys Overholser, the former Skunk Works engineer credited with devising the shape of the first stealth aircraft. The assembly provides an aerodynamic transition from the existing aft fuselage of a T-43 aircraft, a modified Boeing 737-200, to an oversized radome.
The aircraft serves as a Radar Test Bed (RTB) for future Air Force programs. The design, fabrication and machining of the structure's components were all performed at Palmdale. The structure is made of a 90-percent carbon epoxy/honeycomb sandwich material, with machined aluminum parts, and houses an airborne radar assembly. The contract with DENMAR also included the design and fabrication of three radomes for the RTB aircraft. Each radome is more than 6.5 feet in diameter and 9 feet in length. Technical papers from Rome Lab reference a bistatic Advanced Airborne Surveillance system-originally due to be demonstrated in 2000, and a graphic in a Lincoln Lab briefing paper showed a bistatic radar with its transmitter mounted on a 737. The Advanced Radar Test Bed [ARTB] was based on a Lockheed NC-141 (tail number 61-2779).
Ultimately, the T-43A series outlived its usefulness with the US military and was retired in 2010 (through a formal ceremony marking the event). While the T-43A was primarily utilized as an airborne school for most of its career, the airframe began serving several other useful roles before her retirement. The "NT-43A" designation marked a single T-43A modified to serve as an in-flight radar test aircraft for some time. Furthermore, at least six T-43A airframes were later converted to VIP passenger transports as the "CT-43A".
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