U.S. Air Force And Northrop Honor 50 Year History Of The T-38 Talon Jet


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U.S. Air Force And Northrop Honor 50 Year History Of The T-38 Talon Jet

By Eddy Metcalf

April 19, 2011 - Northrop Grumman Corporation joined representatives of the U.S. Air Force in celebrating the 50th anniversary of the first delivery of the T-38 Talon trainer aircraft.

At an event held at Randolph Air Force Base in Texas, the Northrop Grumman-built aircraft was lauded for its longevity, performance and reliability as the primary training aircraft for generations of Air Force pilots. 

Northrop Grumman produced 1,187 T-38s between 1959 and 1972, the year the production program ended. Approximately half of those aircraft remain in service today with the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy, NASA and air forces around the world. Since 1961, more than 70,000 Air Force pilots have earned their wings in the T-38.

The average T-38 has flown 15,000 hours, and the high-time aircraft has flown 19,000 hours. Northrop Grumman has continued to maintain the aircraft, producing replacement wings and new structural components to extend the service life of the platform. "The word 'icon' should not be used lightly, but that word simply and accurately describes the Northrop Grumman T-38 Talon," said Duke Dufresne, sector vice president and general manager of the Strike and Surveillance Systems Division of Northrop Grumman's Aerospace Systems sector.

"It's an honor to stand with the U.S. Air Force as the company that designed, built and continues to service the T-38. This aircraft's unparalleled history and ongoing importance speak volumes about its quality, and the fact that so many of the world's finest pilots trained on the T-38 is a legacy to be proud of." 

The Northrop T-38 Talon is a twin-engine supersonic jet trainer. It was the world's first supersonic trainer and is also the most produced. It remains in service in air forces throughout the world. The United States Air Force (USAF) is the largest user. In addition to USAF pilots, the T-38 is used in the United States by NASA. The U.S. Naval Test Pilot School is the principal U.S. Navy operator (other T-38s were previously used as USN aggressor aircraft until replaced by the similar F-5 Tiger II), as well as some NATO pilots participating in joint training programs, also fly the T-38.

The basic airframe was used for the light combat aircraft F-5 Freedom Fighter family. In the 1950s Northrop began studying lightweight and more affordable fighter designs. The company began with its single-engine N-102 "Fang" concept. The N-102 was facing weight and cost growth, so the project was canceled and the company N-156 project was begun. 


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 that role. The first of three prototypes (designated YT-38) flew on 10 March 1959. 

The type was quickly adopted and the first production examples were delivered in 1961, officially entering service on 17 March 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.

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