The aircraft that was—and then wasn’t—the Air Force’s next primary jet trainer!
The T-37 entered service with the USAF in 1957 and served through 2009. Each pilot trainee logged approximately 90 hours in the T-37, about a third of that time was solo. Did you know that the T-37 served much longer than originally planned?
In 1981, the Air Force began looking for its Next Generation Trainer (NGT), a new primary jet trainer to replace the T-37. The final proposers included Cessna, Fairchild-Republic, and Gulfstream.
Cessna began with an upgraded aircraft design based on the T-37 and eventually moved to a whole new design. Only a mockup was produced. Similarly, Gulfstream proposed a design based on their single-engine business jet, the “Peregrine.”
The T-46 proposed by Fairchild included side-by-side seating, shoulder level wings, a twin tail, ejection seats, pressurization and two turbofan engines. Fairchild contracted the Rutan Aircraft Factory (RAF) to build a 62% flying scale aircraft, the Model RAF 73 NGT, that Burt Rutan test flew.
Based on the performance of the demonstrator aircraft, the Air Force Awarded the contract for Fairchild’s T-46 Eaglet in 1982, placing an order for two prototypes and with options for 54 additional aircraft. The proposed total number of new trainers was to be 650 aircraft.
A bottle or two of champagne were probably uncorked that day at the factory, especially since this meant that Fairchild Republic would be able to stay in business!
After several delays, the first aircraft flew in October 1985. During the period from contract award to first flight, the cost of the aircraft had doubled, from $150,000 to $300,000. Add to that, the fact that the 1985 Gramm–Rudman–Hollings Balanced Budget Act mandated spending cuts across the board. Consequently, the Secretary of the Air Force cancelled the Fairchild contract. Attempts by Congress to have the money for the contract reinstated failed.
How do you put the cork back in the bottle?
At this point, three aircraft had been completed. Within a year, the whole project had been scrapped and the Fairchild Republic factory on Long Island was closed. In 1995, the Air Force selected the Joint Primary Aircraft Training System (JPATS) single-engine, turboprop, tandem seat, Beechcraft T-6 Texan II, also used by the US Navy flight training program.
All three aircraft, as well as the Rutan RAF 73 NGT have survived. One T-46 is on display at the Air Force Flight Test Center Museum at Edwards Air Force Base, California, and a second can be seen at the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG)—often called The Boneyard—on “Celebrity Row” during the AMARG bus tour from the Pima Air Museum, Arizona. The third was last reported as under restoration at the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio. The Model 73 NGT Flight Demonstrator can be seen at the Cradle of Aviation Museum, Garden City, New York.