Sheppard AT-38 is last to fly mission in Air Force

Col. Jeffrey Kendall, 80th Flying Training Wing commander, answers questions April 14 piloting the final AT-38 Talon mission in the Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo/Sandy Wassenmiller).

Col. Jeffrey Kendall, 80th Flying Training Wing commander, answers questions April 14 piloting the final AT-38 Talon mission in the Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo/Sandy Wassenmiller).

The last AT-38 Talon to fly a mission in the Air Force is shown after its final flight April 14 here. Col. Jeffrey Kendall, 80th Flying Training Wing commander, and Lt. Col. Richard McCool, commander of the 88th Flying Training Squadron, were the two pilots to make the historic flight. The T-38C is replacing the aircraft used for introduction to fighter fundamentals. (U.S. Air Force photo/Sandy Wassenmiller).

The last AT-38 Talon to fly a mission in the Air Force is shown after its final flight April 14 here. Col. Jeffrey Kendall, 80th Flying Training Wing commander, and Lt. Col. Richard McCool, commander of the 88th Flying Training Squadron, were the two pilots to make the historic flight. The T-38C is replacing the aircraft used for introduction to fighter fundamentals. (U.S. Air Force photo/Sandy Wassenmiller).

The last AT-38 Talon to fly a mission in the Air Force is given a salutory bath after its final flight April 14 here. Col. Jeffrey Kendall, 80th Flying Training Wing commander, and Lt. Col. Richard McCool, commander of the 88th Flying Training Squadron, were the two pilots to make the historic flight. The T-38C is replacing the aircraft used for introduction to fighter fundamentals.  (U.S. Air Force photo/Sandy Wassenmiller).

The last AT-38 Talon to fly a mission in the Air Force is given a salutory bath after its final flight April 14 here. Col. Jeffrey Kendall, 80th Flying Training Wing commander, and Lt. Col. Richard McCool, commander of the 88th Flying Training Squadron, were the two pilots to make the historic flight. The T-38C is replacing the aircraft used for introduction to fighter fundamentals. (U.S. Air Force photo/Sandy Wassenmiller).

SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- As the wheels of two training aircraft touched down on the runway here April 14, a segment in Air Force history ended as the final mission of the AT-38 Talon rolled to a stop, ushering in an updated aircraft and a new era in the T-38C. 

The final mission flown in the aircraft was in line with the airframes primary purpose at the 80th Flying Training Wing: introduction to fighter fundamentals. The AT-38, flown by 80th FTW Commander Col. Jeffrey Kendall and Lt. Col. Richard McCool, 88th Flying Training Squadron commander, maneuvered through the Texas skies in daring aerobatic fashion to "shoot down" the updated T-38C. 

The veteran pilots led a student pilot, flying the newer model aircraft, through all aspects of the mission and during the flight became the "bandit" during dog-fighting maneuvers.
"It is a great day for us to retire the AT-38 and move on to a new aircraft," Colonel Kendall said. "The T-38C has proven to be a tremendous step forward and will help us to train better." 

The aircraft has a long history throughout the Air Force, training pilots all over the country. Since 1994 the 80th FTW has flown 62,596 hours in the AT-38 and student pilots have trained in the aircraft for 173,595 sorties throughout Air Education and Training Command. 

The Air Force first converted the T-38A into the AT-38 in 1977. A total of 130 aircraft were converted to this configuration from 1977 to 1988. Originally the aircraft were flown in Tactical Air Command as part of lead-in fighter training. 

This mission was handed over to AETC in 1994 where training was accomplished at Columbus Air Force Base, Miss. and Sheppard; and instructor-pilot training was accomplished at Randolph Air Force Base, Texas. 

For Lt. Col. McCool, the flight was notable because he flew the AT-38 in flight school as a student, as an initial member of flight instructors at Randolph and now flew the sortie that retired the aircraft. These flights have spanned his career and he had the opportunity as commander to fly the final mission. 

"It has sentimental value and the historical perspective is important," Colonel McCool said. "IFF exists because the Air Force felt this training would produce better pilots. This helps close the gap between basic pilot training and tactical fighter pilot skills." 

An upgrade to the "C" model of the aircraft gives it improved avionics and displays. The aircraft will be the same students flew in pilot training but now include these upgrades to allow for easier transfer of skills as they move toward more complex systems. 

"The main reason for the upgrade was to give it avionics and displays that mimic as close as possible front-line fighters and give students directly transferable skills from this phase of training to the next," Colonel McCool said. 

Sheppard had 25 AT-38s before the conversion started. There are currently three AT-38s awaiting transfer to finish the conversion modifications by Boeing at Williams Gateway near Phoenix, Ariz. An Air Force Reserve pilot flies the aircraft from Sheppard to the Arizona location and then back to the 80th FTW once the modification is complete. Once the new displays are installed, the aircraft is returned to Sheppard for use in the IFF phase of pilot training. 

Sheppard will have a total of 124 upgraded models and it will take about 23 months to receive all of the updated T-38s. Eventually all models of Sheppard's T-38s will receive the new instruments. The first 25 are designated for training in the introduction to fighter fundamental courses, and the remaining 99 will be used for undergraduate pilot training. 

"It has been a phenomenal time in this airplane, but we are moving toward better technology and better equipment for the students," Colonel Kendall said.
Following the transition to the T-38C, the 80th FTW will convert to the T-6 Texan II starting in fiscal year 2008. The Texan will replace the T-37 Tweet as the introductory training aircraft here.