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T-38 still at top of training class

The T-38 Talon is the fighter-like airframe international pilots of the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training Program use in the second phase of training.

The T-38 Talon is the fighter-like airframe international pilots of the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training Program use in the second phase of training.

SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- Like an old and loyal friend, the T-38 Talon, stationed here since the birth of the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training Program in 1981, will be on hand when the internationally-renowned 80th Flying Training Wing program celebrates its 25th anniversary on Oct. 23.

The T-38 is a remarkably prolific airframe that has become, along with the T-37 Tweet, synonymous with pilot training at ENJJPT. First delivered to the Air Force in 1961, various models of the T-38 have been flying at Sheppard since the 1960s.

The latest version is the T-38C, which the 80th FTW is in the midst of transitioning to. According to a T-38 fact sheet, Air Education and Training Command first started to receive this model in 2001 as part of the Avionics Upgrade Program, which saw the T-38 undergo a propulsion modernization program at bases other than Sheppard. The upgrade replaced major engine components to enhance reliability and maintainability - two words touched on by Capt. Jon Elza, a 90th Flying Training Squadron T-38 instructor pilot, when he talked about the merits of the T-38 and why it's been such a vital tool in the training of Sheppard pilots.

"It's such a reliable aircraft with a great engine," he said. "Maintenance-wise, it's a very reliable aircraft. There's not much more you can ask for in a trainer aircraft, especially with how busy we are here. Per sorties flown, there are very few problems, and this makes it great for training."

He added that Sheppard's combination of good maintainers and good weather bolster the T-38's effectiveness and dependability.

The www.af.mil fact sheet also states that the T-38 needs as little as 2,300 feet of runway to take off and can climb from sea level to 30,000 feet in one minute. The instructor and student sit in tandem on rocket-powered ejection seats, in a pressurized, air-conditioned cockpit.

Captain Elza said that the T-38C provides a state-of-the-art, "glass" cockpit that reflects what student pilots at ENJJPT will see when they leave Sheppard and move onto more sophisticated airframes. The af.mil site states that the aircraft has an integrated avionics display, a head-up display and an electronic "no drop bomb" scoring system.

"The C-model doesn't drop bombs, but it simulates this through computers that can project where a bomb would have hit if one was actually employed," Captain Elza said.

The Air Force fact sheet noted that "as the T-38 fleet has aged, specific airframe, engine and system components have been modified or replaced. Pacer Classic is the name given to a sustainment program that integrates essential modifications, and includes major structural replacements into one process."

It went on to point out that upgrades and modifications made to the T-38C should extend its service life to 2020. The prospect of having T-38s here for the foreseeable future as a primary trainer is a fact that sits well with Captain Elza.

"If it ain't broke, don't fix it," he said. "I don't know of anything wrong with the T-38. We can train students effectively and safely - its track record is a testament to that. It's a great airframe."

One that will continue to train United States and international student pilots while helping to "provide Combat Airpower by Producing Top Quality Fighter Pilots for the NATO Alliance."