US Air Force (USAF) chief of staff General David L Goldfein has tested the new ready-to-fly Boeing T-X aircraft, which was designed for use in future USAF pilot training programmes.
Previously, USAF used Northrup’s T-38C Talon aircraft to conduct training exercises, but with the adoption of new and more advanced aircraft, such as the F-35 Lightning II jet fighter, a newer training aircraft is necessary.
Goldfein said: “The distance between the T-38 and an F-35 is night and day. But with this plane, the distance is much, much smaller. And that’s important because it means the pilots trained on it will be that much better, that much faster at a time when we must be able to train to the speed of the threat.”
The T-X aircraft benefits from a single engine that generates nearly three times more thrust than the dual-engine T-38C Talon. Furthermore, its twin tails, slats, and big leading-edge root extensions help to improve handling at low speeds.
One of the most important upgrades that Goldfein mentioned was its enhanced line of sight. Unlike the T-38C Talon, Boeing’s T-X gives the instructor an elevated view in the cockpit so that they can see whether the student’s body position and hand movements are in the correct position.
He added: “The visibility is exceptional. I can see what the student is doing, what displays he is calling up; which challenges she’s calling up.”
During a briefing with Boeing executives and engineers, Goldfein was keen to find out the reliability and speed at which the aircraft system software can be upgraded. He also asked how maintenance crews could be incorporated into USAF training programmes. The T-X is equipped with easily accessible panels and maintainers can be trained using virtual reality platforms.
Due to these upgrades, the T-X will allow students in USAF pilot training programmes to familiarise themselves technology found in fourth and fifth-generation aircraft. It is expected to go into service by 2024, reaching full operational capacity by 2034.
In September 2018, USAF awarded Boeing the contract to supply 351 T-X aircraft, 46 simulators, and associated ground equipment for its training programmes. The contract is estimated to be worth $9.2bn in total.
Boeing will deliver the first aircraft and simulators to the Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph in Texas in 2023. After that, all undergraduate pilot training bases across the US – including Columbus Air Force Base, Laughlin, Sheppard AFB, and Vance AFB – will transition from the T-38 to T-X.