Program office celebrates T-38C mod completion

HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah — Air Force program officials are celebrating the recent completion of two major modifications to the T-38C Talon. 

Technicians from the 575th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas, modified the last of 446 Air Force and 10 Navy T-38Cs with a video data transfer system (VDTS) and speed break indicator switch (SBIS) in December 2016.

The $50 million VDTS/SBIS program upgraded the aircraft’s video recording capabilities and added a new speed brake position indicator that didn’t previously exist. 

“Service life extension programs and modifications are essential for aging aircraft like the T-38 in order to meet current and future mission needs,” said Angela Micheal, Mature and Proven Aircraft Division Chief/T-38 System program manager. “These modifications will ensure continued suitable, safe and effective operation of the T-38 fleet.” 

The VDTS modification was implemented as a result of a video tape recorder diminishing manufacturing source issue, Micheal said. This system is important for pilot training as it records flight and cockpit data used to debrief student pilots after training flights. 

The SBIS modification added a visual indicator of the speed brake position on the heads-up display that will provide pilots the ability to check the aircraft’s speed brake position during flight. 

In addition to the VDTS/SBIS modifications, other T-38 modification programs currently underway include the Pacer Classic III program, which replaces fatigued structural components on the aircraft; and the Avionics Component Integration Program, which provides avionics upgrades such as ADS-B and component redesigns to address aircraft obsolescence. 

The T-38, which entered the Air Force in 1961, is primarily used by Air Education and Training Command to train combat-ready pilots for fighter and bomber pilot training. 

Modifications are critical to sustaining Air Force training operations, Micheal said, and will keep the T-38 viable until at least 2034, when the next-generation Trainer-X is expected to reach full operational capability. 

However, the 2034 AETC divestiture date simply marks a milestone for the T-38, as Air Combat Command, Air Force Global Strike Command, the U.S. Navy, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and Foreign Military Sales partners still plan to use the aircraft beyond that date, Micheal said.

Air Combat Command currently uses the T-38A/B models for F-22 adversary air training. Additionally, B-2 and U-2 pilots utilize the T-38 for companion training and currently have no plans to fill that role with another aircraft in the future.