1961 Northrop T-38A Talon (60-0900)
The Northrop T-38 Talon is an American supersonic jet trainer. It was the world’s first supersonic trainer and to date, is also the most produced. It remains in service as of 2010 in air forces throughout the world. The United States Air Force (USAF) is the largest user. In addition to USAF pilots, the T-38 is used in the United States by NASA astronauts, with the aircraft bailed to NASA from USAF. The U.S. Naval Test Pilot School is the principal U.S. Navy operator (other T-38s were previously used as USN aggressor aircraft until replaced by the similar F-5 Tiger II), as well as some NATO pilots participating in joint training programs, also fly the T-38. A few are also under civilian ownership.
The basic airframe was used for the light combat aircraft F-5 Freedom Fighter family. In the 1950s Northrop began studying lightweight and more affordable fighter designs. Although the United States Air Force had no need for a small fighter at the time, it became interested in the trainer as a replacement for the T-33 Shooting Star it used at the time in that role. The first of three prototypes (designated YT-38) flew on 10 March 1959. The type was quickly adopted and the first production examples were delivered in 1961, officially entering service on 17 March that year, complementing the T-37 primary jet trainer. When production ended in 1972, 1,187 T-38s had been built. Since its introduction, it is estimated that some 50,000 military pilots have trained on this aircraft. The USAF remains one of the few armed flying forces using dedicated supersonic final trainers, as most, such as the US Navy, use high subsonic trainers.
The T-38 is of conventional configuration, with a small, low, long-chord wing, a single vertical stabilizer, and tricycle undercarriage. The instructor and student sit on a pair of 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 only 2,300 feet of runway for takeoff and can climb from sea level to nearly 30,000 feet in one minute. In 1962, T-38s set four climb records. Student pilots fly the T-38A to learn supersonic techniques, aerobatics, formation, night and instrument flying and cross-country navigation. Its nimble performance has earned it the nickname white rocket.
The fighter version of the N-156 was eventually selected for the US Military Assistance Program (MAP) and produced as the F-5 Freedom Fighter. Many of these have since reverted to a weapons training role as various air forces have introduced newer types into service. The F-5G was an advanced single engine variant later renamed the F-20 Tigershark.
The United States Air Force Strategic Air Command (SAC) had T-38 Talons in service from 1978 until SAC’s deactivation 1991. These planes were used to enhance the career development of bomber co-pilots through the “Accelerated Copilot Enrichment (ACE) Program”. They were later used as proficiency aircraft for all B-52 and B-1 pilots, as well as SR-71, U-2, KC-135, and KC-10 pilots. SAC’s successor, the Air Combat Command (ACC), continues to retain T-38s as proficiency aircraft for U-2 pilots.
The Air Training Command’s (ATC) successor, the Air Education and Training Command (AETC), uses the T-38C to prepare pilots for aircraft such as the F-15E Strike Eagle, F-15C Eagle, F-16 Fighting Falcon, B-1B Lancer, A-10 Thunderbolt and F-22 Raptor. The AETC received T-38Cs in 2001 as part of the Avionics Upgrade Program. The T-38Cs owned by the AETC will undergo propulsion modernization which replaces major engine components to enhance reliability and maintainability, and an engine inlet/injector modification to increase available takeoff thrust. These upgrades and modifications, with the Pacer Classic program, should extend the service life of T-38s to 2020.
Besides the USAF, USN and NASA, other T-38 operators include the German Luftwaffe, the Portuguese Air Force, the Republic of China Air Force, and the Turkish Air Force. NASA uses the plane as a jet trainer for its astronauts, as well as a chase plane. Its fleet is housed primarily at Ellington Field in Houston, Texas. Boeing has also used the T-38 as a chase plane. A T-38 was used as a ‘lead’ plane for the first flight of the 787 Dreamliner, to check ahead on weather conditions. In addition, there are a very small number in private civilian hands.
Our T-38 is on perpetual loan from the GSA / Connecticut DAS. Preliminary restoration has commenced on the cockpit and other subassemblies. It is the goal to eventually prepare the Jet fighter for outside display in front of the Curtiss Hangar.