Training Pilots for Just About Everything
Air Education and Training Command (AETC) utilizes T-38Cs to train pilots to fly a variety of advanced jet aircraft, including the A-10 Thunderbolt II, F-15C Eagle, and F-15E Strike Eagle, the F-16 Fighting Falcon, B-52 Stratofortress, B-1B Lancer, B-2 Spirit, F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning II.
Service With SAC
Strategic Air Command (SAC) used T-38s from 1978 until 1991 when SAC was inactivated. While AETC trains pilots, SAC used the Talon primarily to maintain B-52, B-1, SR-71, U-2, KC-135, and KC-10 pilot flight proficiency. Today Air Combat Command (ACC) uses T-38s to maintain U-2 pilot proficiency. Air Force Global Strike Command (AFGSC) flies T-38s to maintain B-2 pilot proficiency.
Trainers With Experience
AETC-owned T-38Cs have been further modified to improve reliability and maintainability, as well as an increase in available takeoff thrust. Referred to as the Pacer Classic Program, these upgrades and modifications are intended to extend the service life of T-38s past the year 2020. Destined to be replaced by an all-new design during the next decade, by the time all of the more than 500 currently operational Talons are retired many of them will have continuously served for more than 60 years.
Not Just for Military Jet Jocks
1,187 T-38s had been built (plus two N-156T prototypes) when T-38 production came to a close in January of 1972. Approximately 50,000 military pilots have trained in the Talon. In addition to the United States Air Force, the United States Navy, and NASA, Germany, Portugal, South Korea, Taiwan, and Turkey have operated or still operate the T-38. North Atlantic Treaty Association (NATO) countries are hosted at Sheppard Air Force Base in Texas and fly T-38Cs as part of the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training Program. Seven privately-owned T-38s operate in the United States.
NASA’s Favorite Toys
NASA has used T-38s as spaceflight trainers since the 1960s. Astronauts fly Talons between NASA headquarters in Houston Texas and NASA launch facilities at Cape Kennedy in Florida. NASA proficiency flight time requirements are 15 hours per month. NASA also uses their T-38s as chase aircraft for the test flights of various research aircraft. During the space shuttle flights T-38s were used to simulate shuttle landings, scout approach weather for returning shuttle missions, and report spacecraft condition and attitude to the pilots on approach.
Talons With the T Birds
The Air Force flight demonstration team, the Thunderbirds, operated the T-38 from the 1974 show season through the 1981 show season replacing the F-4E Phantom II. The “Talon Era” was brought about primarily by economics. During a performance, five T-38s could fly their shows using the same amount of fuel as a single F-4E. After all, these were the days of oil embargoes and gasoline shortages. A tragic accident during training for the 1982 show season brought an end to the use of T-38s by the Thunderbirds. When reorganized for the 1983 show season, the team was equipped with F-16 Fighting Falcons.
The aircraft is scheduled to be replaced in the next decade by the Air Force’s T-X program.