Boeing and its partner Saab revealed their entry in the US Force’s T-X competition on Tuesday 13 September. The Boeing T-X is an all-new aircraft designed for training mission and according to the design team incorporates the latest technologies, tools and manufacturing techniques. An afterburning F404 engine provides power.
The Boeing T-X aircraft has one engine, twin tails, stadium seating and an advanced cockpit with embedded training. The system also offers state-of-the-art ground-based training and a maintenance-friendly design for long-term supportability.
Both Boeing and Saab will use the two production T-X aircraft, revealed today, to show the U.S. Air Force the performance, affordability, and maintainability advantages of their approach. “Our T-X is real, ready and the right choice for training pilots for generations to come,” said Boeing Defense, Space & Security President and CEO Leanne Caret.
“It’s an honor to build the future of Air Force training,” said Saab President and CEO Håkan Buskhe. “We have created the best solution thanks to great cooperation and a clear strategy since day one.”
The T-X will replace the Air Force’s aging T-38 aircraft. Initial operating capability is planned for 2024. Other entries into the competition are the Lockheed Martin/Korea Aerospace Industries T-50, Leonardo/Raytheon T-100 (based on the M-346) and the Northrop Grumman T-X design.
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.
UPDATED 24 February | US defense company Rayhteon and Finmeccanica have formally joined the T-X race to develop and deliver a new jet trainer aircraft for the US Air Force, Raytheon officialy announced on Monday 22 February. Their proposal will be based on the M-346 Master currently in service in Italy, Singapore and Israel.
Update | A fresh report by defensenews.com indicates Textron AirLand will not bid in the T-X program.
Raytheon and Finmeccanica will further develop the FNM Aeronautics (formerly Alenia Aermacchi) M-346 into the T-100 jet trainer that prepares future pilots for high performance military jets such as the F-35 Lightning II. It’s cockpit is expected to share many commonalities with the F-35, such as a large MFD. Honeywell Aerospace supplies F124 turbofan engines to power the T-100.
In the T-X program, the US looks for at least 350 of such aircraft to replace the current fleet of T-38 Talon jets, a type that has trained military pilots for decades and has seen several upgrades but now nears the end of its life.
The M-346 is used as a Lead-in Fighter Trainer (LIFT). The jet is capable of advanced training by using tactical simulation as well as datalink equipment. It can provide its pilots with a real time radar image provided by ground based or airborne radar systems, and it can replicate and attack threats on the ground and in the air. More on that is here at Airheadsfly.com. Poland should receive its first of eight M-346s soon and a ground attack version is being developed.
Also in the race jointly are Saab and Boeing, who aim to design a new aircraft altogether. Lockheed Martin has backed away from designing from scratch and now bets on a version of the KAI designed T-50. Furthermore, Textron AirLand will probably propose its Scorpion jet or a newly developed variant.
The Pentagon is expected to announce a winner in the T-X program in 2017. A contract is worth roughly 8.4 billion USD. The T-X program is regarded as the last in a recent series of big US airborne defense contract. The Long Range Strike Bomber (LRS-B) program was another. Norhrop Grumman was selected as the winner in that race in October 2015.
The US Air Force’s advanced jet trainer – the Northrop T-38 Talon – is good to go until 2030. The first aircraft that underwent a major overhaul is back in the fleet, after 8,900 man hours were put into replacing and upgrading structural elements inside the fuselage.
In what is officially called the Pacer Clasic III upgrade things like floors and longerons are renewed, giving the body of the plane more life to fly longer. The work is being done at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph in Texas, where another 11 Talons are now going through the hands of the personnel of 575th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. Next year another 17 T-38s are planned to undergo the overhaul with a total of 150 Talons upgraded by 2021 when the program ends – giving each aircraft 15 to 20 years of additional service life.
The US Air Force received a massive 1,100 Northrop T-38s – somewhat similar to the F-5 fighter-bomber – between 1961 and 1972. A small number is in use by the US Navy, while NASA keeps a substantial fleet of 32 aircraft. The jets are also used by the German Air Force, which flies 35 of them in US Air Force livery from Sheppard Air Force Base, the Republic of China Air Force (40 aircraft) and Turkey (67).
Alenia Aermacchi is still in the race to provide the US Air Force with 350 new T-X advanced training jets to replace the aging Northrop T-38 Talons in American service. The bid by the Italian aircraft manufacturer got a serious blow when its planned primary partner, General Dynamics, dropped out of the race.
General Dynamics, the company that designed and made the famous F-16 multirole jet and sold its aircraft division to Lockheed (Martin) in 1993, said it needs time and energy to reorganise itself and that it therefore cannot continue to become lead contractor for Alenia Aermacchi’s planned Americanised version of the M-346 advanced training jet. But the Italians are keeping there hopes up to go ahead with what they have named the T-100 and have engaged business discussions with a yet to be named US company. Winning the partnership of a American based firm is essential to win the order.
L-3 Communications in Waco, Texas, is the most likely “discussion partner” for Alenia Aermacchi, as the US company has already joined forces on the Italian C-27J Spartan aircraft. But Northrop Grumman was also hoping for the support of L-3, which makes matters ratter complicated. But there might be an opening, as Northrop Grumman together with its main partner BAE Systems seems to have stepped away from the earlier plan to offer the US Air Force a “pimped” version of the Hawk advanced jet trainer – meaning L-3 could re-discuss its involvement.
Boeing / SAAB
Probably Alenia Aermacchi’s biggest competitor in the bidding race is the Boeing / SAAB partnership. The SAAB JAS 39 Gripen multirole fighter is already a perfect, but overqualified candidate to replace the T-38. SAAB already admitted it has “a few hundred people working on the project”, with employees working in St. Louis, Missouri, and Boeing personnel at work at SAAB headquarters in Linköping, Sweden.
SAAB’s joint effort with Boeing – which bought the impressive McDonnell Douglas fighter heritage – to modify and “down develop” the ideas behind the Gripen into an advanced jet trainer – could be lethal to the competition, also to third bidder Lockheed Martin working with Korean Aerospace Industries (KAI) to adapt the Korean T-50 jet.