A decade or so ago, the Turkish Air Force faced a challenge. Its pilots were trained using aircraft over 30 years old with analogue instruments prior to converting to modern fourth-generation platforms like the F-16. With the arrival of the even more advanced fifth-generation F-35A Lightning II in mind, something had to change. That change materialized as the T-38M Talon, the result of an upgrade program by Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI). Following delivery of the last of 68 revitalized T-38s last year, Turkish student pilots now get to know the new Talon.
The Turkish Air Force has been flying the modernized T-38M since delivery of the first aircraft in June 2012. The project was initiated in 2007 with a contract for the upgrade of 55 aircraft. An option on a further 13 aircraft was later exercised. The program included an major overhaul plus – more importantly – a new mission computer, multi-function cockpit displays, a head-up display in the front and hands on throttle and stick controls. The first five aircraft, including two prototypes and three production examples, were delivered by TAI after which the Turkish Air Force maintenance center at Eskisehir continued with the remaining airframes.
Originally donated by the dozens by the United States Air Force, the T-38 has been training Turkish pilots since the 1970s and in its new guise will continue to do so until well beyond 2020. Epicentre of it all is Çigli airbase, just north of the country’s third biggest city Izmir. Here, aircraft continuously taxi out, take off, fly overhead and make touch and goes before landing. With many dozens of sorties each day, this is without a doubt Turkey’s busiest airbase.
Base commander major general Kubilay Selçuk, a pilot with many hundreds of flight hours in the F-100 Super Sabre, F-104 Starfighter and F-16 Fighting Falcon: “Many things have changed in the past few years. We resurfaced the runways and taxiways, built new ramps with sun sheds and other facilities such as a simulator center. Our modernized T-38Ms, new KT-1Ts turboprop trainers and simulators enable us to train fighter pilots well into the future. Future fighter pilots will not be assets of a command center. They will be a vital part of that command center, collecting more and more information themselves and acting accordingly. We prepare them for that.”
Future pilots all spend a total of three months flying the SF260D, six months flying the KT-1T and another six months flying the T-38M or either the AS532 helicopter or CN235 transport aircraft depending on their next assigment. Advanced jet training in the T-38 includes instrument flying, formations of up to four aircraft, low level navigation and night flying. Every flight is planned on the computer and mission data are then downloaded into the T-38M’s mission computer. After the flight, mission data is uploaded back to the computer enabling very detailed debriefs.”
On their thirteenth T-38M sortie, students go solo. Unlike their counterparts in the US, Turkish students don’t fly supersonic in the Talon. This is reserved for experienced instructors performing check rides.
A unique training method links each student with his or her instructor pilot, says base commander Selçuk. Students all have different types of intelligence and methods in which they best absorb information. This could be visual intelligence, listening intelligence or emotional intelligence, for example. A survey before entering flight training links their specific learning style to an instructor with a similar teaching style. These adjustments and the commissioning of the new simulator center enables the students to acquire more information in a shorter time frame. For example, T-38 students now fly 69 real sorties instead of 81 in the past.
The demand for new fighter pilots is large and this is reflected in the number of instructors being assigned. Instructor pilots are accepted as first assignment instructor pilots (FAIP) and they are taken from operational units. Between 2000 and 2014, close to 500 instructor pilots were trained at Çigli airbase. A peak was reached in 2011 when 52 new instructors arrived, but currently around 30 new instructor pilots arrive each year.
A relatively new role to Çigli airbase and the T-38 is the Introduction to Fighter Fundamentals (IFF). The role was taken over from 133 Filo (squadron) flying the F-5 at Konya airbase following the F-5’s retirement in 2013. The IFF phase consists of a single air intercept sortie, six basic fighter manoeuvre sorties and eight air-to-ground sorties over a nearby reserve airbase. Since the T-38 cannot carry any armament, all weapon deliveries are simulated. The aim of this phase is for students to learn how to employ their aircraft as a weapons systems, rather than ‘simply’ flying it. Completing this phase smoothens their conversion to the F-16.
In the US, the T-38 is the subject of the T-X program that looks for a replacement in the next decade or so. The Turkish Air Force expects to be able to fly the T-38M until around two years after the United States Air Force stops operating the Talon, meaning the aircraft could stay in service until at least 2030. The Turkish Air Foroce recently started first preparations for the selection of a new jet trainer aircraft. It should probably enter service in the second half of the next decade. All in all, plenty of Turkish Talon training time left.
© 2016 Airheadsfly.com contributor Dirk Jan de Ridder
Featured image: Two T-38M Talons fly over the beautiful Aegean Sea near Çigli airbase. (Image © Dirk Jan de Ridder / www.ridder.aero)