Northrop T-38 Talon
Northrop T-38 Talon is a two-seat, twinjet supersonic jet trainer.
It was the world's first supersonic trainer and is also the most
produced. The T-38 remains in service as of 2017[update] in several
United States Air Force
United States Air Force (USAF) operates the most T-38s. In
addition to training USAF pilots, the T-38 is used by NASA. The U.S.
Naval Test Pilot School is the principal US Navy operator (other T-38s
were previously used as USN aggressor aircraft until replaced by the
Northrop F-5 Tiger II). Pilots of other
NATO nations fly the
T-38 in joint training programs with USAF pilots.
As of 2017, the T-38 has been in service for over 50 years with its
original operator, the
United States Air Force.
1 Design and development
2 Operational history
5 Aircraft on display
6 Specifications (T-38A)
7 See also
9 External links
Design and development
In 1952 Northrop began work on a fighter project, the Fang, with
shoulder-mounted delta wing and a single engine. The proposed
General Electric J79
General Electric J79 engine, weighing nearly two tons, meant the
resulting aircraft would be large and expensive. Then in 1953,
representatives from General Electric Aviation's newly created Small
Aircraft Engine Department showed Northrop a relatively tiny engine
(around 400 lb installed wt) capable of 2,500 lb of thrust,
and Northrop VP-Engineering
Edgar Schmued saw the possibility of
reversing the trend toward the large fighters. Schmued and chief
engineer Welko Gasich decided on a small twin-engine "hot-rod"
fighter, the N-156. Northrop began its N-156 project in 1954, aiming
for a small supersonic fighter jet capable of operating from the US
Navy's escort carriers. However, when the Navy chose not to pursue
equipping its fleets in that fashion, Northrop continued the N-156
design using in-house funding, recasting it as a lightweight fighter
(dubbed N-156F) and aimed at the export market.
In the mid-1950s the USAF issued a General Operating Requirement for a
supersonic trainer, planning to retire its 1940s-era Lockheed T-33s.
Northrop officials decided to adapt the N-156 to this competition. The
only other candidate was the two-seat version of the North American
F-100 Super Sabre. Although the F-100 was not considered the ideal
candidate for a training aircraft (it is not capable of recovering
from a spin), NAA was still considered the favorite in the
competition due to that company's favored-contractor status with the
Air Force. However, Northrop officials convincingly presented
life-cycle cost comparisons which could not be ignored, and they were
awarded the contract, receiving an order for three prototypes. The
first (designated YT-38) flew on 10 April 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 (plus two N-156T prototypes). 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 the T-38 set absolute time-to-climb records for 3,000, 6,000,
9,000 and 12,000 meters, beating the records for those altitudes set
by the F-104 in December 1958. (The F-4 beat the T-38's records less
than a month later.)
The F-5B and F (which also derive from the N-156) can be distinguished
from the T-38 by the wings; the wing of the T-38 meets the fuselage
straight and ends square, while the F-5 has leading edge extensions
near the wing roots and wingtip launch rails for air-to-air missiles.
The wings of both the T-38 and the F-5 family use conventional skin
over spar-rib structure.
Most T-38s built were of the T-38A variant, but the USAF also had a
small number of aircraft converted for weapons training (designated
AT-38B), which were fitted with a gunsight and could carry a gunpod,
rockets, or bombs on a centerline pylon. In 2015, 504 T-38s were still
operational with the USAF, with many more in operation around the
world. Most of the USAF variant aircraft (T-38A and AT-38B) have been
converted to the T-38C through an avionics upgrade program.
Improvements include the addition of a HUD, GPS, INS (Inertial
Navigation System), and TCAS. Most jets have also received PMP (a
propulsion modification to improve low-altitude engine thrust).
Approximately a third of the fleet (those that experience more severe
usage) are currently undergoing structural replacements and upgrades,
as well as receiving new wings, to extend their service life to 2029.
The fighter version of the N-156 was eventually selected for the US
Military Assistance Program
Military Assistance Program and produced as the F-5 Freedom Fighter.
Many of these have since reverted to a weapons training role as
various air forces have introduced newer types into service. The F-5G
was an advanced single-engined variant later renamed the F-20
Strategic Air Command
Strategic Air Command (SAC) had T-38s in service from 1978
until SAC's 1991 inactivation. These aircraft were used to enhance the
career development of bomber copilots through the "Accelerated Copilot
Enrichment Program." They were later used as proficiency aircraft for
all B-52, B-1, Lockheed SR-71, U-2,
Boeing KC-135, and KC-10 pilots.
SAC's successors, the
Air Combat Command
Air Combat Command (ACC) and the Air Force
Global Strike Command (AFGSC), continue to retain T-38s as proficiency
aircraft for U-2 pilots and B-2 pilots, respectively.
The Air Training Command's (ATC) successor, the Air Education and
Training Command (AETC), uses the T-38C to prepare pilots for the
F-15C Eagle and F-15E Strike Eagle, the F-16 Fighting Falcon, B-52
Stratofortress, B-1B Lancer, B-2 Spirit, A-10 Thunderbolt, F-22 Raptor
and F-35 Lightning II. The AETC received T-38Cs in 2001 as part of the
Avionics Upgrade Program. The T-38Cs owned by the AETC have undergone
propulsion modernization which replaces major engine components to
enhance reliability and maintainability, and an engine inlet/injector
modification to increase available takeoff thrust. These upgrades
and modifications, with the Pacer Classic program, should extend the
service life of T-38s past 2020. The T-38 has an availability goal of
75% which it maintained in 2011, however in 2015 availability is
Besides the USAF, USN and NASA, other T-38 operators included the
German Air Force
German Air Force (Luftwaffe), the Portuguese Air Force, the Republic
of China Air Force, and the Turkish Air Force.
The USAF has launched the T-X Program, to replace the T-38. Aviation
Week & Space Technology reporters wrote in 2010 "there appears to
be no rush to purchase T-38 replacements"; "the service is conducting
an analysis of alternatives" with results "not expected to be ready
until the Fiscal 2013 budget". In subsequent years, the Air Force
indicated it would launch a competition for the T-38's replacement.
Likely bidders include: A partnership of
BAE Systems and Rolls Royce,
offering the Hawk trainer, equipped with Rolls' Adour Mk951 engine
offering 6,500 lb of thrust and FADEC;
Lockheed Martin and Korea
Aerospace Industries, offering the T-50; and
Raytheon and Alenia
Aermacchi offering the T-100, an aircraft whose design originated with
NASA operates a fleet of thirty-two T-38 aircraft and uses the
aircraft as a jet trainer for its astronauts, as well as a chase
plane. Its fleet is housed primarily at
Ellington Field in Houston,
Texas. NASA's internal projections show the number of operational jet
trainers falling to 16 by 2015. The agency spends $25–30 million
annually to fly and maintain the T-38s.
Space Shuttle era it was established
NASA tradition for
astronauts to arrive at the
Kennedy Space Center
Kennedy Space Center in T-38 Talons.
More than 210 aircraft losses and ejections have been documented over
the lifetime of the T-38.
NASA's T-38s were involved in four separate fatal accidents in the
1960s and 1970s, and several non-fatal incidents.
1964 Oct 31: Astronaut
Theodore Freeman was killed as a result of a
1966 February 28 (1966
NASA T-38 crash): Astronauts
Elliot See and
Charles Bassett were killed when they struck a building in
1967 October 5: Astronaut Clifton "C.C." Williams was killed in a
crash due to an aileron jam.
In response to the 1973 OPEC oil embargo, from 1974 to 1983, the U.S.
Air Force Thunderbirds aerobatic display team adopted the T-38 Talon,
which used far less fuel than the F-4 Phantom. The Blue Angels
downsized to the
Douglas A-4 Skyhawk
Douglas A-4 Skyhawk at roughly the same time. After
the infamous 1982 "Diamond Crash" incident that killed four of the
Thunderbirds' six demonstration pilots, the T-38 was replaced in this
role by the front line F-16A Fighting Falcon.
Two fatal crashes in 2008, on 23 April at
Columbus Air Force Base
Columbus Air Force Base in
Mississippi and on 1 May at
Sheppard Air Force Base
Sheppard Air Force Base in Wichita Falls,
Texas, resulted in four fatalities, causing the Air Force to
temporarily ground the aircraft. On 21 May 2009, a T-38 crashed
just north of
Edwards Air Force Base
Edwards Air Force Base in the Mojave Desert. A T-38
crashed on November 20, 2017, near Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas,
killing one of two instructor pilots aboard.
There are seven privately owned T-38s in the U.S.
Boeing owns two
T-38s, which it uses as chase planes. Thornton Corporation owns
two T-38s and three F-5s and the
National Test Pilot School
National Test Pilot School owns one
T-38. In addition, ILOAJP HOLDING and Wayne L. Siltanen own one
N-156T: Northrop company designation.
YT-38: Prototypes, two built with YJ85-GE-1 engines, later designated
YT-38A and four pre-production aircraft with YJ-85-GE-5 engines, later
T-38A: Two-seat advanced training aircraft, production model, 1,139
T-38A(N): Two-seat astronaut training version for NASA. See T-38N
AT-38A: A small number of T-38As were converted into weapons training
DT-38A: A number of US Navy T-38As were converted into drone
GT-38A: Permanently grounded aircraft, often due to flight or ground
mishap, converted into ground procedural trainers or aircraft
NT-38A: A small number of T-38As were converted into research and test
QT-38A: Unmanned target drone aircraft.
AT-38B: Two-seat weapons training aircraft.
T-38C: A T-38A with structural and avionics upgrades.
Turkish Air Force
Turkish Air Force T-38As with full glass cockpit and
avionics, upgraded by
Turkish Aerospace Industries
Turkish Aerospace Industries under the project
codename "ARI" (Turkish: Arı, for Bee).
T-38N: Former USAF T-38As bailed to
NASA and T-38As directly assigned
NASA that received an Avionics Upgrade Program (AUP), modernizing
communications and navigation systems, replacing outdated avionics,
and adding a weather radar, flight management system, altitude alert
systems, and modern controls and displays.
N-205: "Space trainer" variant proposed in May 1958, with triple
rocket engines for vertical launch. Capable of Mach 3.2 on its
way to an altitude of 200,000 feet (61,000 m).
ST-38 or N-205B: Revised proposal in April 1963 for the new Aerospace
Research Pilot School, with a rolling takeoff, top speed of Mach 3.3
and a ceiling of 285,000 feet (87,000 m), high enough to qualify
its pilots for astronaut wings.
T-38 VTOL Proposed vertical takeoff variant with four lift nozzles
behind the pilot.
German Air Force
German Air Force - 46 T-38A in 1968, now upgraded to T-38C. All
aircraft are stationed at Sheppard AFB,
Texas and are painted in US
Portuguese Air Force
Portuguese Air Force - 12 aircraft in 1977. Initially operated by 201
Sqn. "Falcões" (Falcons) at Air Base No. 5, in 1980 they were
transferred to 103 Sqn. "Caracóis" (Snails) being stationed in Air
Base No. 11. They were retired in 1993.
Republic of Korea Air Force
Republic of Korea Air Force - thirty T-38A from the US in April 1999.
All units were returned to the US by 2009 after near completion of
production of T-50 Golden Eagle supersonic trainer.
Taiwan (Republic of China)
Republic of China Air Force
Republic of China Air Force - former operator
Turkish Air Force
Turkish Air Force - 33 T-38M in service.
United States Air Force
United States Air Force - 508 T-38 trainers in service as of September
1st Reconnaissance Squadron
2d Fighter Training Squadron
435th Flying Training Squadron
560th Flying Training Squadron
49th Flying Training Squadron
50th Flying Training Squadron
87th Flying Training Squadron
25th Flying Training Squadron
88th Flying Training Squadron
90th Flying Training Squadron
469th Flying Training Squadron
43d Flying Training Squadron
96th Flying Training Squadron
97th Flying Training Squadron
415th Flight Test Flight
394th Combat Training Squadron
586th Flight Test Squadron
445th Flight Test Squadron
United States Navy
United States Navy - 10 aircraft in use as November 2008.
United States Naval Test Pilot School
NASA - approximately 32 aircraft bailed[clarification needed] from
Aircraft on display
A T-38 Talon on display at the Frontiers of Flight Museum
58-1196 – California Science Center, in
Los Angeles, California
Los Angeles, California 
59-1601 – On base display, Air University area, Maxwell AFB,
59-1602 – On base display,
United States Air Force
United States Air Force Academy, in
Colorado Springs, Colorado. Painted as "Thunderbird 1"
59-1604 – National Naval Aviation Museum, NAS Pensacola, Florida;
former USAF aircraft bailed to USN and utilized by the U.S. Naval Test
Pilot School at NAS Patuxent River, Maryland.
59-1605 – On base display, USAF History and Traditions Museum,
Lackland AFB, Texas
60-0549 – Prairie Aviation Museum, in Bloomington, Illinois
60-0558 – American Legion Post 233 in Edinburgh, Indiana
60-0570 – Edward F. Beale Museum, Beale AFB, California
60-0573 - On display, Degner Regional Airport, Owatonna, Minnesota
(with 60-0589 and 61-0828)
60-0574 – On base display, Laughlin AFB, Texas
60-0589 - On display, Degner Regional Airport, Owatonna, Minnesota
(with 60-0573 and 61-0828)
Oklahoma Welcome Station, adjacent to Tinker AFB,
61-0828 - On display, Degner Regional Airport, Owatonna, Minnesota
(with 60-0573 and 60-0589)
61-0829 - Gallup Municipal Airport,
Gallup, New Mexico
Gallup, New Mexico 
61-0838 – On base display, in front of Randolph Inn Visiting
Officers Quarters (VOQ), Randolph AFB, Texas
61-0854 – Pima Air and Space Museum, adjacent to Davis-Monthan AFB
in Tucson, Arizona, on display in the markings of the 479th Tactical
Training Wing at Holloman AFB, NM, circa 1982.
Sheppard AFB Air Park, Sheppard AFB, Texas
Science Spectrum in Lubbock, Texas.
61-0926 - Salina Oklahoma, lawn of American Legion post #240 
Sheppard AFB Air Park, Sheppard AFB
63-8224 – Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum in McMinnville,
Oregon; painted in
NASA colors, suspended from the ceiling in the Air
and Space Exhibit Hall.
65-10405 – On base display, Columbus AFB, Mississippi
65-10426 – On base display, Vance AFB, Oklahoma
NASA 901 (N901NA) – Assigned directly to
NASA as the
NASA T-38 to be designated as '
NASA 901' and 'N901NA'; on
display at Aviation Heritage Park, Bowling Green, Kentucky
60-0592 – Dyess Linear Air Park, Dyess AFB, Texas
March Field Air Museum
March Field Air Museum at
March ARB (former March AFB) in
Riverside, California, on display in Thunderbirds markings.
Hill Aerospace Museum
Hill Aerospace Museum adjacent to Hill AFB, Utah.
South Dakota Air and Space Museum
South Dakota Air and Space Museum at Ellsworth AFB, South
60-0576 – On base display, Holloman AFB, New Mexico.
65-10441 – National Museum of the
United States Air Force
United States Air Force at
Wright-Patterson AFB in Dayton, Ohio. This aircraft was retired in
1991, came to the museum in 1999, and was placed on display in
NASA 969 (N969NA) – On display at Kennedy Space Center
Visitor Center, NASA/John F. Kennedy Space Center, Merritt Island,
NASA 901 (N901NA) – Assigned directly to
NASA as the
NASA T-38 to be designated as
NASA 901 and N901NA; on display
at Aviation Heritage Park, Bowling Green, Kentucky
Data from USAF factsheet
Crew: two: student and instructor
Length: 46 ft 4.5 in (14.14 m)
Wingspan: 25 ft 3 in (7.7 m)
Height: 12 ft 10.5 in (3.92 m)
Wing area: 170 ft² (15.79 m²)
Empty weight: 7,200 lb (3,270 kg)
Loaded weight: 11,820 lb (5,360 kg)
Max. takeoff weight: 12,093 lb (5,485 kg)
Powerplant: 2 × General Electric J85-5A (J85-5R after PMP
modification) afterburning turbojets
Dry thrust: 2,050 lb (9.1 kN) each
Thrust with afterburner: 2,900 lbf (12.9 kN) each
Maximum speed: Mach 1.3 (858 mph, 1,381 km/h)
Range: 1,140 mi (1,835 km)
Service ceiling: 50,000 ft (15,240 m)
Rate of climb: 33,600 ft/min (170.7 m/s) ()
Wing loading: 69.53 lb/ft² (339.4 kg/m²)
United States Air Force
United States Air Force portal
Northrop F-20 Tigershark
List of active
United States military aircraft
List of spaceflight-related accidents and incidents
^ Johnsen 2006, pp. 5–6
^ Eden 2004, p. 344
^ Due to its elongated fuselage - the pilot's operating handbook for
the two-seat version contains an instruction to avoid spins.
^ "Northrop marks 50th anniversary of T-38 Talon first flight."
defencetalk.com, 14 April 2009. Retrieved: 21 August 2011.
^ a b c d e f "T-38 TALON Fact Sheet". U.S. Air Force. 2 May 2008.
Archived from the original on 1 August 2013.
^ TO 1T-38A-4, USAF T-38 Tech Order
^ Butler, Amy (6 April 2015). "T-X Competition Fierce Despite GD,
Alenia Split". Aviation Week & Space Technology. Archived from the
original on 7 April 2015. Retrieved 7 April 2015.
^ "USAF Braces For Fiscal Bombardment." AW & ST, 20 September 2010
^ Power play, The World column, AW & ST, 16 September 2013, p. 12
^ a b c d e "Aircraft – Make / Model Results: Northrop T-38." FAA
Registry. Retrieved 21 August 2011
^ Creech, Gray. "T-38 Supersonic Trainer Jet Gets New Home." NASA.
Retrieved 21 August 2011
^  Northrop T-38 Losses and Ejections
^ "Crash Kills Astronaut." Richland, WA – Tri City Herald, 1
^ "Goose Hit Jet, Killing Astronaut." The Miami News, 17 November 1964
^ "2 Astronauts Die In Plane Crash." The Tuscaloosa News, 28 February
^ "See – Bassett Backup Crew Gets Gemini." Daytona Beach, FL –
Morning Journal newspaper, 1 March 1966
^ "Williams Wanted To Be First On The Moon." St. Petersburg, FL
-Evening Independent newspaper, 6 October 1967
^ "Board Pinpoints Astronaut's Death." Sarasota, FL – Herald-Tribune
newspaper, 7 June 1968
^ "Planes Grounded After Crashes," The New York Times, 2 May 2008, p.
^ "T-38 crash claims life of Edwards' pilot". U.S. Air Force. 22 May
2009. Archived from the original on 22 July 2013. Retrieved 21 August
^ "Air Force Pilot Training T-38 Jet Plane Crashes in Del Rio, One
Pilot Dead and Another Injured." Eagle Pass Business Journal, 22
^ a b Andrade 1979, p. 167
^ "Modifications & Modernization T-38 Avionics Modernization
Program." Archived 2011-08-15 at the Wayback Machine. Turkish
International Cooperation and Export Activities. Retrieved 21 August
^  airliners.net
^ "Northrop Space Trainer". The Aeroplane, 3 April 1959, p. 393
^ Article from Utrechts Nieuwsblad, 12 November 1959
^ "The Air Force in Facts and Figures." Air Force Magazine, May 2012
^ "Directory: World Air Forces." Flight International, 11–17
^  California Science Center. Retrieved 16 June 2015
^  warbird information exchange
^  NAM, Pensacola FL
^  aero-web
^ "T-38 Talon/60-0549." Prairie Aviation Museum. Retrieved 12 April
^ "GT-38A Talon 60-0558 in Edinburgh." Talon in Edinburgh
^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2014-11-21. Retrieved
^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2014-09-17. Retrieved
^ "T-38 Talon/61-0817." Warbird Registry. Retrieved 12 April 2013
^ Google Maps 35.5155497,-108.7794413,276
^  Warbird Information Exchange
^ "T-38 Talon/61-0854." Pima Air & Space Museum. Retrieved 12
^ a b "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2014-09-17.
^ "T-38 Talon/61-0902." Warbird Registry. Retrieved 12 April 2013
^ "T-38 Talon/63-8224." Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum.
Retrieved 12 April 2013
^  airliners.net
^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2016-03-04. Retrieved
^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-10-11. Retrieved
^  Aviation Heritage Park
^  Bowling Green Daily News
^  aero-web
^ "T-38 Talon/60-0593." Archived 2012-01-08 at the Wayback Machine.
March Field Air Museum. Retrieved 12 April 2013
^ "T-38 Talon/61-0824." Archived 2013-04-23 at the Wayback Machine.
Hill Aerospace Museum. Retrieved 12 April 2013
^ "T-38 Talon/58-1192."
South Dakota Air and Space Museum. Retrieved
12 April 2013
^ "T-38 Talon/60-0576." Warbird Registry. Retrieved 12 April 2013
^ "T-38 Talon/65-10441." Archived 2013-04-04 at the Wayback Machine.
National Museum of the USAF. Retrieved 12 April 2013
^  tinfeathers.com
^ "T-38s modified by the propulsion modernization program have
approximately 19 percent more thrust, reducing takeoff distance by 9
percent." (T-38 Talon USAF Fact Sheet)
^ Even though this value has been printed in USAF outlets for many
years, it is probably incorrect. The T-38 time-to-climb record, set in
1962, was 3 minutes to 30,000 feet. According to Northrop's Roy Martin
(quoted on p. 64 of Air & Space/Smithsonian, Vol. 20, No. 3
(August/September 2005), a normal climb at military power - that is,
maximum power without afterburner - is around 6,000 feet/minute.
Andrade, John U.S. Military Aircraft Designations and Serials since
1909 Midland Counties Publications, 1979, ISBN 0 904597 22 9
Eden, Paul, ed. "
Northrop F-5 family". Encyclopedia of Modern Military
Aircraft. London: Amber Books, 2004. ISBN 1-904687-84-9
Johnsen, Frederick A. Northrop F-5/F-20/T-38. North Branch, Minnesota:
Specialty Press, 2006. ISBN 1-58007-094-9
Shaw, Robbie. F-5: Warplane for the World. St. Paul, Minnesota:
Motorbooks International, 1990. ISBN 0-87938-487-5
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Northrop T-38 Talon.
T-38 Talon page on GlobalSecurity.org
T-38 Talon page on SR-71.org
NASA photo gallery
"White Rocket," Air & Space/Smithsonian Magazine, Vol. 20, No. 3
(August/September 2005), pp. 58–65
Note: Northrop company designations include a wide variety of
technologies. Only aircraft, aero engines, and missiles are linked
See also: TR-3
United States trainer aircraft designations, Army/Air Force and
1 Not assigned