LEXINGTON PARK, Md. – From now until August, we’ll feature aircraft from NAS Patuxent River’s US Naval Test Pilot School. Today’s aircraft is BUNO 623625, a Northrop T-38A Talon that was photographed in 2007 while being prepared for permanent display. The white base coat strikingly shows off the T-38’s graceful lines.
After full USNTPS markings were applied, 623625 was displayed outside the Schoolhouse. In 2016, 623625 was again repainted and moved to our Museum, where you can see her in our Test and Evaluation Hall.
First flown in 1959, T-38s were introduced into the US Air Force’s training command two years later. Talons have also been operated by many foreign militaries and NASA. The Navy employed T-38s in adversary and test pilot training roles.
BUNO 623625 displays the Talon’s original air intake design. Reflecting the role planned for the T-38 in the late 1950s, those inlets were optimized for supersonic flight.
But they presented serious problems outside this regime. Quoting NASA’s Johnson Space Center: “…the older inlet design causes internal separation from incoming air. This separation starves the engines of air, thereby reducing engine efficiency. The consequences of reduced engine efficiency include increases in takeoff distances, decreases in safety margins, and engine failures that result in higher-risk, single-engine takeoffs.”
To mitigate that risk, NASA engineers led the development of a new, larger inlet. In the early 2000s, the T-38 fleet’s custodian, the USAF, included the redesigned inlets in the package that converted T-38As into T-38Cs. Other changes included upgraded engines, an exhaust nozzle redesign, modernized cockpits, and improved avionics.
The T-38C inlets can be seen in the inset photo.
T-38Cs remain in use at the USNTPS today. In 2023, the USAF will begin replacing their T-38s with Boeing’s T-7 Red Hawk.
Prepared by Robert M. Tourville