The T-38 Talon is a twinjet supersonic jet trainer produced by American aerospace and defence company Northrop Grumman. The company built 1,187 T-38 twin-jet trainer aircraft and more than 72,000 USAF pilots have flown the T-38 since it entered service in 1961, when it was the world’s first supersonic trainer.
More than 500 aircraft remain in service with the US Air Force and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) and it is also in service with the armed forces of Germany, South Korea, Taiwan and Turkey.
The USAF T-38 trainers are primarily used by the Air Education and Training Command for joint specialised undergraduate pilot training (JSUPT), but the aircraft are also used by the Air Combat Command for its companion training programme and by the Air Force Materiel Command to test experimental equipment.
Nasa uses T-38 aircraft as trainers for astronauts and as observers and chase planes on programmes, such as the space shuttle. Pilots from NATO countries are also trained on the T-38 at the Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas, through the Euro-NATO joint jet pilot training programme. In September 2018, the USAF selected the T-7 Red Hawk to eventually replace the T-38 Talon aircraft. The T-7 Red Hawk is jointly manufactured by Boeing and Saab.
T-38 Talon variants
The T-38A is a basic supersonic trainer aircraft and the AT-38B is the lead-in fighter trainer fitted with a centreline weapons station for practice bomb dispenser. A programme was implemented to upgrade the T-38A and extend the service life of the aircraft until at least 2020. The programme included new avionics and propulsion and new structural elements including the wings.
The upgraded aircraft is designated T-38C. The USAF T-38As were upgraded to T-38C by upgrading the avionics and support systems. In May 2008, the USAF temporarily grounded its fleet of the T-38C aircraft, following two fatal crashes in May and April 2008. The crashes were found to be unrelated.
Design of the twin-jet trainer aircraft
The aircraft is a low wing monoplane with a fuselage of semi-monocoque design constructed mainly of aluminium with steel and titanium. The cantilever all-metal tail has a hydraulically powered rudder and single piece all moving tail plane. The aluminium alloy multi-spar wings are fitted with heavy metal plate machined skins.
Wing Replacement for T-38 Talon trainer aircraft
Northrop started the production of the replacement wings for the T-38 trainer aircraft of the USAF in 2001. The replacement wings are designed to keep the aircraft operational for another four decades.
The new T-38 wings are made of aluminium alloys and designed as a single unit from one tip to another. The structure of the wings comprises a lightweight internal honeycomb. The company was also contracted to work on an improved design of the wings to double the service life of the Talon.
USAF Pacer Classic programme
As part of the US Air Force’s Pacer Classic programme, initiated in 1984, the structural integrity work on the T-38 includes replacement of the ejection seats, longerons, landing gear and brakes, flight controls and an impact resistant canopy.
Aerospace and defence contractor CPI Aerostructures was awarded purchase orders by the USAF for the T-38C Pacer Classic III (PC III) aircraft structural modification programme in May 2018.
The company previously received four orders to supply structural modification kits for the T-38C aircraft. It secured an additional contract worth $65.7m to deliver modification kits for the sustainment of T-38A/B/C. The three-phase PC III and Talon Repair Inspection and Maintenance (TRIM) are intended to extend the service life of the trainer until at least 2030. StandardAero, a company based in the US, was contracted by the USAF to provide maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) services for the engines of the T-38 trainer jet aircraft fleet.