First Of The Supersonic Trainers Deployed In 1961
Officials commemorated the T-38 Talon supersonic jet trainer's
50th service anniversary in a ceremony at Randolph Air Force Base
in Texas on March 17. The T-38 was first deployed in March 1961,
and has served as a training vehicle for multiple generations of
pilots and pilot instructors throughout its five decades of
Col. Richard Murphy, the commander of the 12th Flying Training
Wing, said the T-38 continues to play a central role in the Air
Force's pilot training program. "The T-38 has been an instrumental
and foundational element (of pilot training) over the last 50
years," Colonel Murphy said. "The Talon continues to develop our
combat Air Force pilots as they learn aviation and warfighting
skills that are needed for today's Air Force and for our
The T-38 prepares pilots to fly fighter and bomber aircraft,
including the F-15 Eagle, the F-16 Fighting Falcon and the B-1B
Lancer. "The aircraft obviously has been a tremendous work horse,"
Colonel Murphy said. "(And it will) continue to serve in this
capacity for the foreseeable future."
Reflecting on the legacy of the T-38, Gen. Edward A. Rice Jr.,
the commander of Air Education and Training Command, said the
50-year history of the aircraft represents a "fundamental truth"
about the Air Force. "The Air Force utilizes the best equipment,
provides the best training and possesses the world's most qualified
and dedicated instructor pilot force," he said. "The complexity of
both the modern battlespace and that of our aircraft inventory have
increased dramatically, and the T-38 has evolved to meet these
very, very high demands. From the 'glass cockpit' and a heads-up
display, to numerous structural upgrades, the Talon has embodied
the phrase, 'flexibility is the key to airpower.'"
The general went on to recount the T-38's history, beginning
with its first flight as a test aircraft in 1959, in the shadow of
NASA's human spaceflight program. "What you may not know about the
T-38 is that its maiden flight was on April 10, 1959 -- the day
NASA (officials) held their first press conference with the Mercury
astronauts who went into space," he said. "While the eyes of the
nation were fixed on space flight and later on a voyage to the
moon, the T-38 team was quietly building a foundation of excellence
upon which the Air Force would build its pilot force for decades
and decades to come."
General Rice said the effectiveness of the T-38 was proven
during the Vietnam War and continues to this day. "Just a few years
after its first flight, the T-38 graduates were tested in combat in
the skies over Vietnam," he said. "It is difficult to overstate the
legacy of the T-38 Talon and the effect it has had on sustaining
the finest pilot training program in the world."
In honor of the aircraft's 50th anniversary, retired Lt. Col.
Donald Wheeler, one of the first graduates of the T-38 training
program, arrived at the ceremony in the rear seat of a T-38 painted
with a special commemorative color scheme, giving the plane an
appearance similar to its original 1961 look. The colonel said he
believes the Air Force has one of the best pilot training programs
in the world, and that his training aboard the T-38 was
advantageous to his career as a pilot.When asked if the T-38 feels
different now than it did on his early flights, he said, "Yeah, I'm
Though the T-38 has served the Air Force for 50 years, General
Rice said it will continue to serve as a training platform for
future Air Force pilots. "Over the next few years, new pilots will
continue to learn their craft in this wonderful, wonderful
aircraft, the T-38," he said. "And one day, these young men and
women will ascend to fill the ranks of Air Force senior leadership.
So no matter what the future holds, the legacy of the T-38 Talon is
secure in the experiences and the memories of this new generation
of Air Force aviators."
Colonel Murphy said that while much has changed in the world
since 1961, there is one thing that has not changed. "Our mission
remains the same as it was in 1961: produce the world's greatest
pilots and instructors," he said.