Boeing takes the wraps off their entrant into the Air Force’s T-X competition to replace the T-38 Talon.
Under the cover of night, Boeing moved its T-X aircraft to a hangar in St. Louis for the unveiling ceremony. Boeing’s entrant into the T-X competition is a clean-sheet design that features a single engine jet with twin tails, a “stadium-seating” cockpit and advanced avionics and senors that will permit a more complete pilot training program for fighters and bombers.
Boeing’s design is riskier than some of the other potential T-X competitors. As a clean-sheet design, the trainer jet could be seen as a more risky option for the Air Force if selected. Boeing has made efforts to lesson the risk by applying its commercial manufacturing experience in tooling and manufacturing. They also claim that the first two aircraft built are production examples, not prototypes.
The T-X program is 20+ year project
The T-X program started as a study in 2003 with a stated goal to replace the T-38 Talon. Design requirements emerged in 2011. With 4th and 5th generation aircraft as the primary fighter weapons systems, follow on training programs have had to shoulder much of the training that the T-38 aircraft cannot do. According to Brig. Gen. Donlop, “Currently, 12 of 18 advanced pilot training tasks can’t be completed with the T-38, relying on fighter and bomber formal training units to complete the training at a much greater cost.” The T-X program is designed to close the gap in training that currently exists.
Additionally, the T-X program will attempt to field a jet that is much easier to maintain with the ability to rapidly integrate emerging sensors and technology. The T-X program selected must be able to comprehensibly integrate with training devices such as ground based trainers and simulators to reduce actual flying requirements.
The T-X contract is expected to be awarded in 2017. Over 350 T-Xs are expected to be purchased. If the contract and program stays on track, operations of the T-X should begin by 2024.