Northrop T-38 Talon

TypeAdvanced Trainer
Country of originUnited States
ManufacturerNorthrop Corporation
First flight10 March 1959
Introduced17 March 1961
Numbers built1,187
Unit costsUS$756,000 (1961 constant dollars)
Max speedMaximum speed: Mach 1.3 (858 mph, 1,381 km/h)

Rate of climb: 33,600 ft/min (170.7 m/s)
Max rangeRange: 1,140 mi (1,835 km)
Service ceiling: 50,000 ft (15,240 m)
DimensionsLength: 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 (16 m²)
WeightEmpty weight: 7,200 lb (3,270 kg)
Loaded weight: 11,820 lb (5,360 kg)
Max takeoff weight: 12,093 lb (5,485 kg)
Powerplant2 x General Electric J85-5A (J85-5R after PMP modification) afterburning turbojets
OperatorsGermany, Portugal, Republic of China (Taiwan), Turkey, Republic of Korea, United States

 The Northrop T-38 Talon is well-known as the first supersonic trainer aircraft in the world and still holds the record for most produced supersonic trainer aircraft. In the United States alone, at least 50,000 trained pilots have been flying this aircraft. The United States Air Force (USAF) was the main user of T-38 Talon. Other countries that also use this trainer aircraft for their pilot training program are Germany, Portugal, Republic of China (Taiwan), Turkey and the Republic of Korea (South Korea). In addition, the United States Navy also operates the twin-engine aircraft for the U.S. Naval Test Pilot and some of the trainer aircraft was also used as aggressor aircraft.

Even the USAF Thunderbirds display team and NASA ever been the operators of the T-38 Talon. Until production was discontinued in the year of 1972, it is recorded 1,187 T-38s had been produced.

The Design and Development of T-38 Talon

Northrop began to develop T-38 design in the 1950’s, even before the company developed the F-5 supersonic fighter. In fact, the T-38 airframe that became the basis of the light combat aircraft F-5 series design. At that time, Northrop wanted to develop a lightweight fighter aircraft at an affordable price. Their concept realized with single-engined jet aircraft named Northrop N-102 Fang. However, this project was canceled and subsequently the company developed Northrop N-156 which became the forerunner of the F-5.

Luckily at that time the USAF intended to replace the T-33 Shooting Star trainer aircraft and it saw T-38 design was a good candidate for the desire aircraft. Finally, Northrop made three prototypes. The first prototype with designation YT-378 flew in March 1958. In March 1961, the first production aircraft entered service and became the standard for the training of fighter pilots at supersonic speed. At that time, the U.S. Navy used only subsonic trainer aircrafts.

The T-38 Talon uses two General Electric J85 engine-5A afterburning turbojets and is able to reach a maximum speed of Mach 1.3. At first glance, this aircraft is very similar to the F-5, even some people think that the plane was made based on the design of the F-5 whereas the opposite. The fundamental difference is seen in the wings design. T-38 features a straight wing and square at the point of meeting with the main fuselage while the F-5 features leading edge extensions near the wing roots and wingtip launch rails for air-to-air missiles. F-5 also has a maximum speed of Mach 1.6.

The T-38 design is simple and can be spelled conventionally with the use of small and low-chord wing, air intakes which positioned at the wing roots and a single vertical stabilizer and three landing gears. In the cockpit, there are two tandem seats for the student and instructor.

In further development several variants had been created, the majority are the T-38A. USAF also has the T-38B fitted with a gunsight, gunpod, rockets or bombs that could be used for weapon training. Other variants are the T-38A (N) (two-seat version for NASA astronaut training), AT-38A (weapons training aircraft), DT-38A (U.S. Navy drone directors), NT-38A (research and test aircraft) , QT-38A (Unmanned target drone), AT-38B (two-seat training aircraft weapons), T-38C (with upgraded structure and avionics), and T-38m ARI (Turkish T-38 with upgraded avionics).

Throughout its active period, several accidents that killed the pilots of T-38 occurred such as bird strike in 1964 that killed an astronaut, a T-38 talon crashed into a building in foggy weather and killing the pilot in 1966, a T-38 crashed due to aileron jam in October 1967 and two NASA pilots were killed when during instrument approach in a fog in 1972.

Other fatal accidents happened in 1982 when four Thunderbirds pilots killed and three USAF’s T-38 crashes in 2008. The latest accident was a T-38 crash near Edwards Air Force Base in the Mojave Desert.

Northrop T-38 Talon videos

T-38 Talon II, The Commitment Continues

NASA T-38 Talon Start Taxi And GREAT Takeoff

Report an error

Related Military Aircraft: