Coming in for a landing: T-38 retires one model, paves the runway for another
By Staff Sgt. Tonnette Thompson, 82nd Training Wing, Public Affairs
/ Published May 07, 2007
SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas --
For 41 years, the T-38 Talon has served as a second-step trainer for students at the 80th Flying Training Wing at Sheppard AFB, honing their skills until they're elevated to combat-ready fighter pilots.
With 80th FTW Commander Col. Jeffrey Kendall at the helm, the last "A"-model of these jets made its way to the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Center, commonly known as the "boneyard," at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., Monday replaced by the upgraded T-38C.
"The T-38A was designed to train our pilots to fly third-generation fighter aircraft like the F-4 and F-104. We have since moved on to upgraded, fourth-generation versions of the F-15, F-16 and A-10 that operate in a glass cockpit environment. Even now, our Air Force is starting to or will fly fifth-generation jets like the F-22, Joint Strike Fighter and Eurofighter -- all utilizing a glass cockpit. We must train our students to be comfortable in this environment," Colonel Kendall said.
The glass cockpit is an updated configuration of the T-38's flight and navigation instrument displays, featuring more convenient push-button technology, more detailed display screens and more compact panels, replacing the older "round dial" technologies of the 1960s.
Essentially, it's still the T-38 Talon, but the dials and switches one might expect to find in the cockpit are replaced with more digitized equipment, boasting the appearance of a mini-supercomputer.
With pilots who'll earn their wings in the 21st century, it seems fitting.
"We sometimes refer to the students coming through here now as the Nintendo generation; they're more accustomed to a push-button interface," Colonel Kendall said. "They're excited about the change, but it won't be a major issue for them.
"It has actually been harder to transition some of the instructors who were used to the A-model," he said.
The main advantage of the C-model will be increased navigational precision and situational awareness during their flights, which Colonel Kendall noted is absolutely crucial to a pilot who could wind up in a battle zone.
As one of the countless students who received his initial pilot training on the A-model at Sheppard AFB, Colonel Kendall admits some reluctance to part ways.
"I guess the word is melancholy," he said. "This aircraft was a large part of my life. I'll miss it, but the T-38C is our future and I'm extremely excited about having it here."
The Air Force has used the supersonic T-38 since 1961, with the craft earning the nickname "white rocket" for its nimble abilities. The German Luftwaffe, the Portuguese Air Force, the Taiwanese Air Force, the Turkish Air Force, the U.S. Navy and NASA have all spotlighted the T-38 aircraft in their operations. Even the Thunderbirds decreed the T-38 worthy of its famous aerobatic shows for a time.
Accompanying Colonel Kendall, in a T-38C, was Lt. Col. Harry Oostema of the 90th Flying Training Wing. Once they reached Davis-Monthan AFB, Colonel Oostema escorted Colonel Kendall back to Sheppard AFB in the T-38C, where the rest of his newly revamped trainers awaited.