Northrop T-38 Talon

Product Type:

Military Trainer Aircraft (Supersonic)

Using Service (US):

Air Force (USAF)

Program Status:

Upgrades and sustainment

Prime Contractor:

Northrop Grumman Corporation

The Northrop T-38 Talon

About the T-38 Talon:

The Northrop (now Northrop Grumman) T-38 Talon is a twin-engine two-seat supersonic jet trainer used by the U.S. Air Education Training Command (AETC) as an advanced trainer for specialized undergraduate pilot training. The T-38 is powered by two General Electric J85-GE-5 turbojet engines with afterburners, each delivering 2,050 pounds of dry thrust (2,900 pounds with afterburners).

The T-38 has swept wings, a streamlined fuselage and tricycle landing gear with a steerable nose wheel. Two independent hydraulic systems power the ailerons, rudder, and other flight control surfaces. Critical aircraft components are waist-high and can be easily reached by maintenance crews. The instructor and student sit in tandem on rocket-powered ejection seats in a pressurized, air-conditioned cockpit. The newest configuration, the T-38C, incorporates a glass cockpit with integrated avionics displays and a heads-up display.

To date, more than 75,000 U.S. Air Force pilots have trained in the T-38 Talon, which was the world's first supersonic trainer. The aircraft has accumulated 13 million flight hours to date. In 1956, the former Northrop Corporation won the U.S. Air Force contract to develop an advanced supersonic trainer. The YT-38 development aircraft made its first flight on April 10, 1959. The former Northrop Corporation produced 1,187 T-38s between 1959 and 1972 with more than 500 currently in service with the U.S. Air Force and NASA. As of September 2012, there are 508 T-38s in the Air Force inventory (54 T-38A, 6 AT-38B and 448 T-38C). Current plans for the Air Force call for the T-38C Talon to remain in service through 2040.

Northrop Grumman has produced a replacement wing for the T-38 that will help to extend the service life of the aircraft beyond 2020.

The U.S. Air Force has launched a program to develop the replacement aircraft for the T-38. The T-X program calls for the purchase of an initial 350 aircraft. Budget cuts have delayed the program and initial operational capability is not expected before 2020 or later. The average age of in-service T-38s is now over 44 years. While the aircraft is safe to operate, the T-38 is becoming increasingly difficult and expensive to sustain. Another issue is that the T-38 is inadequate to train pilots to operate fifth generation stealth fighters. Four companies have confirmed they will be competing for the T-X contract: 1) Alenia Aermacchi of Italy with the M-346 Master; 2) Lockheed Martin/Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) with the T-50 Golden Eagle; 3) BAE Systems/Northrop Grumman with the Hawk. Boeing and SAAB has teamed up to offer a trainer derivative of the latter's JAS 39 Gripen; and 4) Textron AirLand plans to offer a modified version of its Scorpion aircraft.




Supersonic jet trainer for joint specialized undergraduate pilot training. The Air Education and Training Command uses the T-38C to prepare pilots for frontline fighter and bomber aircraft such as the F-15 Eagle, F-16 Fighting Falcon, B-1B Lancer, A-10 Thunderbolt II, F-22 Raptor, and the F-35 Lightning II.

FY 2014 DoD Program:

The primary modification budgeted in FY 2014 is Pacer Classic III, a depot-level modification program to replace known life-limited components and ensures structural sustainment of 125 T-38C aircraft at high risk of grounding. Procurement funds in the amount of $19.3 million have been allocated.

FY 2015 DoD Program:

The primary modification budgeted in FY 2015 is Pacer Classic III, a depot-level modification program which replaces known life-limited components and ensures structural sustainment of 125 T-38C aircraft at high risk of grounding. Timely modifications will ensure execution of the Air Education and Training Command (AETC) advanced undergraduate pilot training mission to FY 2026. Pacer Classic III will replace major structural components within the aircraft fuselage including major longerons, bulkhead/formers, internal skins and structural floors.

For more information, click to view the FY 2015 USAF T-38 Budget.

Source: U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) and Northrop Grumman Corp.

Specifications Armament DoD Spending FY2015 Budget

Last Update: December 15, 2015.

By Joakim Kasper Oestergaard Balle /// (

External Resources:

Northrop Grumman: T-38 Talon

YouTube: T-38 Talon | YouTube Videos

Fact Sheet: Not Available

T-38 Talon U.S. Defense Budget Charts:

DoD Spending on the T-38 Talon in FY 2011, FY 2012, FY 2013, FY 2014 and FY 2015
DoD Purchases of T-38 Talon Aircraft in FY 2011, FY 2012, FY 2013, FY 2014 and FY 2015
Defense Budget Data

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DoD Spending, Procurement and RDT&E: FY 2011/12/13 + Budget for FYs 2014 + 2015

DoD Defense Spending, Procurement, Modifications, Spares, and RDT&E for the T-38 Talon

Download Official U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) Budget Data:

Modification of T-38 Aircraft (USAF)

Aircraft Specifications: T-38C Talon

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Primary Function: Advanced jet pilot trainer
Contractor: Northrop Corporation (now Northrop Grumman)
Power Plant: 2x General Electric J85-GE-5 turbojet engines with afterburners
Thrust: 2,050 pounds dry thrust; 2,900 pounds with afterburners
Thrust (with PMP): 2,200 pounds dry thrust; 3,300 pounds with afterburners
Wingspan: 25 ft 3 in (7.6 m)
Length: 46 ft 4 in (14 m)
Height: 12 ft 10 in (3.8 m)
Weight (Empty): 7,200 lbs (3,266 kg)
Maximum Takeoff Weight (MTOW): 12,093 lbs (5,485 kg)
Speed: 706 kts/812 mph (1,308 km/h); Max. 746 kts/858 mph (1,382 km/h)
Service Ceiling: 55,000+ ft (16,764+ m)
Range: 950 nm/1,093 miles (1,760 km)
Armament: T-38A/C: none; AT-38B: provisions for practice bomb dispenser
Crew: Two (student and instructor)
Price/Unit Cost: $756,000 (FY 1961 constant dollars)
First flight: April 10, 1959 (YT-38)
Deployed: March 1961
Inventory: 508 (54x T-38A, 6x AT-38B and 448x T-38C) - as of September 2013

Defense Program

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