T-38 Talon

T-38 Talon

infobox Aircraft
name = T-38 Talon
type = Advanced trainer
manufacturer = Northrop Corporation

caption =
designer = Edgar Schmued
first flight = 10 March 1959
introduced = 17 March 1961
retired =
status = Operational
primary user = United States Air Force
more users = United States Navy
produced = 1961–1972
number built = 1,187
unit cost =
developed from = N-156
variants with their own articles = Northrop F-5

The Northrop T-38 Talon is an American supersonic jet trainer. It was the world's first, and most produced supersonic trainer. It remains in service as of 2008 in air forces throughout the world including the United States Air Force (USAF), which remains its largest user.

The basic airframe was used for the light combat aircraft F-5 Freedom Fighter family. In addition to USAF pilots, T-38s are also used by NASA astronauts, the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School (other T-38s were previously used as USN aggressor aircraft), other NATO pilots under a joint training program, and some under civilian ownership.

Design and development

The T-38 was designed in the mid 1950s as the trainer variant of a lightweight fighter project (the N-156 project) by the Northrop Corporation (today part of Northrop Grumman). 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 was then using in this role. The first of three prototypes (designated YT-38) flew on March 10 1959. The type was quickly adopted and the first production examples were delivered in 1961, officially entering service on March 17 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 aircraft seats a student pilot and instructor in tandem, and has intakes for its two turbojet engines at the wing roots. Its nimble performance has earned it the nickname "white rocket"—in 1962, T-38s set four climb records.

The F-5B and F (which also derive from the N-156) can be distinguished from the T-38 by the wings; the wing of the T-38 meets the fuselage straight and ends square, while the F-5 possesses leading edge extensions near the wing roots and wingtip launch rails for air to air missiles. Under the paint, the T-38 wing is constructed of honeycomb material whereas the wing of the F-5 family is constructed of conventional skin over underlying support structure.

Most T-38s built were of the T-38A variant, but the USAF also had a small number of aircraft that had been converted for weapons training. These aircraft (designated AT-38B) had been fitted with a gunsight and could carry a gunpod, rockets, or bombs on a centerline pylon. In 2003, 562 T-38s were still operational with the USAF and are currently undergoing structural and avionics programs (T-38C) to extend their service life to 2020. Improvements include the addition of a HUD, GPS, INS (Inertial Navigation System), and TCAS as well as PMP (a propulsion modification designed to improve low-altitude engine performance by significantly increasing thrust). Many USAF variants (T-38A and AT-38B) are being converted to the T-38C standard.

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 later developed into the single-engine F-20 Tigershark.

Operational history

The United States Air Force Strategic Air Command had T-38 Talons in service from 1981 through 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.

Besides the USAF, other T-38 operators include the German Luftwaffe, the Portuguese Air Force, the Republic of China Air Force, the Turkish Air Force and the US Navy. It is also flown by NASA and Boeing, who use the type as a chase plane. There is a very small number of them in private civilian hands.

NASA also uses the plane as a jet trainer for its astronauts; its fleet is housed primarily at Ellington Field in Houston, Texas. NASA's T-38's have been in some notable fatal accidents in the 1960s, resulting in the deaths of astronauts Theodore Freeman, Elliott See, and Charles Bassett. These crashes were due to adverse conditions and not due to problems with the jet.

In the wake of the January 28, 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, the then-President Ronald Reagan and his wife Nancy traveled to the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas on January 31, 1986, to speak at a memorial service honoring the astronauts. It was attended by 6,000 NASA employees and 4,000 guests, as well as by the families of the crew. During the carefully planned ceremony, an Air Force band led the singing of "God Bless America" as NASA T-38 Talons flew directly over the scene, in the traditional missing-man formation. All activities were broadcast live by the national television networks.Fact|date=April 2008

In response to the 1973 OPEC oil embargo, the Thunderbirds aerobatic display team of the U.S. Air Force adopted the T-38 Talon, which used far less fuel than the F-4 Phantom, in 1974. (The Blue Angels downsized to the A-4 Skyhawk at roughly the same time). After the infamous "Diamond Crash" incident that killed four of the team's six demonstration pilots, the Talon was replaced in this role by the front-line F-16A Fighting Falcon in 1983.

Two fatal crashes, one on 23 April 2008 at Columbus Air Force Base in Mississippi and the second on 1 May 2008 at Sheppard Air Force Base in Wichita Falls, Texas, resulted in four fatalities, causing the Air Force to temporarily ground the aircraft. [Associated Press, "Planes Grounded After Crashes", printed in the New York Times, May 2, 2008, p. 14.]


* N-156T : Northrop company designation.
* YT-38 : Prototype, two built, later re-designated YT-38A
* T-38A : Two-seat advanced training aircraft, production model, 1139 built.
* T-38A(N) : Two-seat astronaut training version for NASA.
* AT-38A : A small number of T-38As were converted into weapons training aircraft.
* DT-38A : A number of US Navy T-38As were converted into drone directors.
* NT-38A : A small number of T-38As were converted into research and test aircraft.
* QT-38A : Unmanned target drone aircraft.
* AT-38B : Two-seat weapons training aircraft.
* T-38C : A T-38A with structural and avionics upgrades. [ [http://www.af.mil/factsheets/factsheet.asp?id=126 Factsheets : T-38 Talon : T-38 Talon ] ]


* Luftwaffe ;POR
* Portuguese Air Force;ROC-TW
* Republic of China Air Force;TUR
* Turkish Air Force;ROK
* Republic of Korea Air force;USA
* United States Air Force (462 as of September 2007 [ [http://www.airforce-magazine.com/MagazineArchive/Magazine%20Documents/2008/May%202008/0508facts_figs.pdf "The Air Force in Facts and Figures"] , Air Force Magazine, May 2008.] )
* United States Navy
* NASA (~32 aircraft)
* Thornton Aircraft Company (~5 aircraft)
* Boeing (~1 aircraft)

pecifications (T-38A)

aircraft specifications
plane or copter?=plane
jet or prop?=jet
crew=2: student and instructor
length main=46 ft 4.5 in
length alt=14.14 m
span main=25 ft 3 in
span alt=7.7 m
height main=12 ft 10.5 in
height alt=3.92 m
area main=170 ft²
area alt=16 m²
empty weight main=7,200 lb
empty weight alt=3,270 kg
loaded weight main=11,820 lb
loaded weight alt=5,360 kg
max takeoff weight main=12,500 lb
max takeoff weight alt= 5,670 kg

engine (jet)=General Electric J85-5A (J85-5R after PMP modification)
type of jet=afterburning turbojets
number of jets=2
thrust main=3,850 lbf
thrust alt=17.1 kN

max speed main=Mach 1.3
max speed alt=858 mph, 1,381 km/h
range main=1,140 mi
range alt=1,835 km
ceiling main=50,000 ft
ceiling alt=15,240 m
climb rate main=33,600 ft/min
climb rate alt=170.7 m/s
loading main=70 lb/ft²
loading alt=340 kg/m²

ee also

* Northrop F-5
* F-20 Tigershark

similar aircraft=

* List of active United States military aircraft

see also=


External links

* [http://www.af.mil/factsheets/factsheet.asp?id=126 T-38 Talon USAF Fact Sheet]
* [http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/systems/aircraft/t-38.htm T-38 Talon page on GlobalSecurity.org]
* [http://www.sr-71.org/aircraft/t-38.php T-38 Talon page on SR-71.org]

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