A longer life: reserve test flight has big role in T-38 upgrade program.
Under the propulsion modernization program, contractors at Randolph Air Force Base are modifying the Air Force's T-38 fleet. Once the work is complete, the Reserve's 415th Flight Test Flight at Randolph is responsible for performing functional check flights to ensure the aircraft are airworthy.
"The PMP was developed to correct airframe and engine deficiencies related to safety, performance, reliability and maintainability," said Milan Michalec, Air Education and Training Command program manager overseeing the project. "PMP modifications update the 40-year-old T-38 propulsion system and extend the life of the T-38 to meet future pilot production needs."
In November, the 415th FLTF delivered the first T-38 to undergo modifications to the 479th Flying Training Group at Moody AFB, Ga. The modernization program, being performed by Lear-Siegler Services Inc., is expected to last 10 years.
Maj. Jack Morawiec, operations officer for the 415th and a functional check flight pilot, said that over the years, upgrades to the T-38 increased the weight of the plane. The added weight decreased the aircraft's takeoff performance.
"PMP essentially improves the takeoff performance of the T-38 by increasing the thrust," Morawiec said. "The increased thrust enables the T-38 to be operated in a safer and less restrictive manner while reducing maintenance and operations costs."
More than 1,100 T-38 Talons were delivered to the Air Force between 1961 and 1972, when production ended. Currently, 545 remain in service.
Air Combat Command uses the aircraft as a companion trainer to provide pilots additional flying time at a lower cost. Air Force Materiel Command flies the aircraft for test support and flight test training. AETC uses the T-38 as an advanced trainer to train pilots selected to fly fighters and bombers.
AETC is the lead command responsible for sustainment and modernization of all T-38s in the Air Force inventory. The T-38 System Program Office at the Ogden Air Logistics Center, Hill AFB, Utah, provides primary field support for the aircraft. AFMC has direct operational control of the 415th FLTF mission, while Air Force Reserve Command maintains administrative control of the unit.
In addition to modifying the propulsion system, the Air Force is also involved in a program to upgrade T-38 avionics systems. This upgrade is designed to improve the training capabilities of the T-38 and provide one design/configuration for all training roles envisioned for the system. Once completed, the program will make it easier for pilot trainees to transition from the T-38 to a front-line fighter or bomber aircraft.
"The Reserve, in general, and the 415th, in particular, have done an outstanding lob assuming the depot flight test unit program mission," said Lt. Col. Robert K. Downey, 415th FLTF commander. "The active to Reserve transition was seamless, and we have made monumental strides in a short period of time, having built the unit from the ground up. The 'shell' organization that existed prior to the transition was replaced with a dynamic, stand-alone operation that now meets the needs of its people as well as its customer, the warfighter. It was no surprise that after only 18 months the 415th team received an 'outstanding' on an AFMC aircrew performance evaluation."
The 415th FLTF traces its history back to Feb. 3, 1942, when it was originally activated as the 25th Reconnaissance Squadron. From April 22, 1942, to July 3, 1945, the unit flew B-24 Liberators and was designated the 415th Bombardment Squadron. During this time the unit distinguished itself participating in bombing campaigns over North Africa, Sicily, Rumania and Germany.
The unit was inactivated July 3, 1945, as part of the military drawdown at the end of World War 11, It was activated again Sept. 1, 1958, at Lincoln AFB, Neb., where the unit flew the B-47 Stratofortress for about 3 1/2 years. On Jan. 1, 1962, it was inactivated for a second time and stayed that way until Oct. 1, 1992, when it was activated a third time as the 415th Flight Test Squadron at Edwards AFB, Calif. At Edwards the 415th was responsible for developmental flight testing of all variants of the F-15 Eagle.
It performed this mission for two years before being inactivated Oct. 1, 1994. The unit remained in an inactive status until Oct. 1, 2001, when it was put back in business as the 415th FLTF at Randolph AFB. It was here that the unit began flying the T-38 Talon in support of depot maintenance, upgrade programs and system program office-directed developmental flight test missions.
(Lieutenant Patterson is assigned to the Headquarters AFRC Office of Public Affairs at Robins AFB, Ga. Some information for this article taken from an Air Education and Training, Command News Service article.)