Northrop T-38 Talon / N-156T
To meet a US government requirement for a high-performance lightweight fighter that would be suitable for supply to and operation by friendly nations via the Military Assistance Program, Northrop began the private-venture design of such an aircraft in the mid-1950s, identifying it as the Northrop N-156.
This initial design concept was to form the basis of a family of aircraft, including a supersonic trainer which had the company designation N-156T. Three YT-38 prototypes were ordered in December 1956, this number being increased to six in June 1958, and the first of them was flown on 10 April 1959.
Cantilever low wing monoplanes with slender area ruled fuselages, the first two prototypes were each powered by two 953kg thrust non-afterburning General Electric YJ85-GE-1 turbojets, but the remainder of this first batch had YJ85-GE-5 engines with an afterburning thrust of 1633kg. The first to receive the T-38, in 1962, was the 3560th UPT Wing at Webb AFB, Texas. Testing with these latter engines resulted in an initial contract for the T-38A Talon, the first of them entering service with the USAF's 3510th Flying Training Wing, at Randolph AFB, on 17 March 1961, powered by two 3,850 lb thrust General Electric J85-GE-5 turbojet engines. The aircraft boasts a 720° per second roll rate.
The Talon, which seats instructor and pupil in tandem on ejection seats and has a fully powered control system, has gained one of the best safety records of any supersonic aircraft in USAF service. As a result, when production ended in early 1972 a total of 1,187 T-38s had been built for the USAF. The US Navy acquired five from the USAF, and three of these remained in service with the Test Pilots School at Patuxent River.
Also supplied through the USAF and operated by the German Luftwaffe were 46 used for pilot training in the US. Only export customer was Portugal who received two batches of six Sidewinder-equipped ex-USAF aircraft in 1977 and 1981 to replace F-86 Sabres used in the dedicated air defence role but doubling as advanced pilot trainers.
NASA also acquired a number from Northrop, using them as flight-readiness trainers for astronauts.
The designations AT-38A and NT-38A were allocated to two T-38As following their conversion for evaluation as an attack trainer and research/ development aircraft respectively. Four of the US Navy's T-38s converted to serve as drone directors were redesignated DT-38A.
The AT 38B is a lightly armed version serving in the Lead-in Fighter Training role at Holloman AFB, New Mexico. The T-38B has a gunsight and a centerline pylon which can be fitted with a gun pod or bombs. Some 700 of these aircraft remained in service in 1992.
The T-38 Talon were modernised to T-38C standard for redelivery from 1999 by Northrop Grumman. The T-38C employed new, electronic instrumentation.
Several T-38s have made their way back into the U.S. in private hands.
Engines: 2 x General Electric J85-GE-5 turbojets, 2,500 lbs.t. (1134 kgp) and 3,850 lb (1746 kg) with afterburn
Max speed, 838 mph (1348 kph) at 36,000 ft (10 973 m)
Cruise, 590 mph (949 kph)
Initial climb, 30,000 fpm (152.4 m/sec)
Service ceiling, 56,800 ft (17 312 m)
Range, 1,267 mls (2039 m)
Empty weight, 7,340 lb (3329 kg)
Loaded weight, 11,700 lb (5307 kg)
Span, 25 ft 3 in (7.7 m)
Length, 44 ft 2 in (13.46 m)
Height: 3.92 m / 12 ft 10 in
Wing area, 170 sq.ft (15.8 sq.m)
U/C & flap limit: 240 kt