Tag Archives: Northrop T-38A Talon

2 May 1977

The first 10 female officers to graduate from the Air Force Undergraduate Pilot Training Program, Class 77-08, with a Northrop T-38A Talon, 2 September 1977. (U.S. Air Force)
The first 10 female officers to graduate from the Air Force Undergraduate Pilot Training Program, Class 77-08, with a Northrop T-38A Talon, 2 September 1977. (U.S. Air Force)

2 May 1977: First Lieutenant Christine E. Schott, USAF, was the first woman in the Air Force Undergraduate Pilot Training Program to solo in the Northrop T-38A Talon at Williams AFB, Arizona. She was a member of Class 77-08, which entered on 19 September 1976.

Northrop T-38A-55-NO Talon 64-13302 on takeoff at Edwards AFB. (U.S. Air Force)
A Northrop T-38A Talon two-place, twin engine supersonic trainer (T-38A-55-NO Talon 64-13302) at Edwards AFB. (U.S. Air Force)

The ten women in this photograph, along with their 36 male classmates, received their Silver Wings on 2 September 1977. They are Captains Connie Engel, Kathy La Sauce, Mary Donahue, Susan Rogers and Christine Schott; First Lieutenants Sandra Scott and Victoria Crawford; Second Lieutenants Mary Livingston, Carol Scherer and Kathleen Rambo.

Captain Christine E. Schott would later be the first woman in the Air Force to qualify and serve as an aircraft commander on the C-9A Nightingale medical transport.

Screen Shot 2016-05-01 at 12.36.16
Above image from “Chronological History of the C-9A Nightingale,” by Cadet 1st Class Janene L. Drummer and Ms. Kathryn A. Wilcoxson, Office of History, Air Mobility Command, Scott AFB, Illinois, March 2001)
McDonnell Douglas C-9A Nightingale, 71-0874. (U.S. Air Force)
McDonnell Douglas C-9A Nightingale, 71-0874. (U.S. Air Force)

The T-38A is a two-place, twin-engine jet trainer capable of supersonic speed. It is 46 feet, 4 inches (14.122 meters) long with a wingspan of 25 feet, 3 inches (7.696 meters) and overall height of 12 feet, 10 inches (3.912 meters). The trainer’s empty weight is 7,200 pounds (3,266 kilograms) and the maximum takeoff weight is 12,093 pounds (5,485 kilograms).

The T-38A is powered by two General Electric J85-GE-5 turbojet engines. The J85 is a single-shaft axial-flow turbojet engine with an 8-stage compressor section and 2-stage turbine. The J85-GE-5 is rated at 2,680 pounds of thrust (11.921 kilonewtons), and 3,850 pounds (17.126 kilonewtons) with afterburner. It is 108.1 inches (2.746 meters) long, 22.0 inches (0.559 meters) in diameter and weighs 584 pounds (265 kilograms).

It has a maximum speed of Mach 1.08 (822 miles per hour, 1,323 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level. The Talon’s service ceiling of 55,000 feet (16,764 meters) and it has a maximum range of 1,093 miles (1,759 kilometers).

In production from 1961 to 1972, Northrop has produced nearly 1,200 T-38s. As of January 2014, the U.S. Air Force had 546 T-38A Talons in the active inventory. It also remains in service with the U.S. Navy, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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10 April 1959

Prototype Northrop YT-38-5-NO Talon 58-1191 takes off for the first time at Edwards AFB, 10 April 1959. (U.S. Air Force)
Prototype Northrop YT-38-5-NO Talon 58-1191 at Edwards AFB, 10 April 1959. (U.S. Air Force)

10 April 1959: Northrop test pilot Lewis A. Nelson made the first takeoff of the prototype YT-38-5-NO Talon, serial number 58-1191, at Edwards Air Force Base, California.

A private venture by Northrop, the Talon was designed by a team led by Edgar Schmued, famous for his work on the North American Aviation P-51 Mustang, F-86 Sabre and the F-100 Super Sabre. The Talon is a twin-engine advanced trainer capable of supersonic speeds. More than 5,500 hours of wind tunnel testing was performed before the airplane’s final configuration was determined.

After testing, the two YT-38s were modified to the YT-38A configuration. The modified aircraft was accepted by the United States Air Force and ordered into production as the T-38A Talon.

The T-38 was the world’s first supersonic flight trainer. The Northrop T-38A Talon is a pressurized, two-place, twin-engine, jet trainer. Its fuselage is very aerodynamically clean and uses the “area-rule” (“coked”) to improve its supersonic capability. It is 46 feet, 4.5 inches (14.135 meters) long with a wingspan of 25 feet, 3 inches (7.696 meters) and overall height of 12 feet, 10.5 inches (3.924 meters). The one-piece wing has an area of 170 square feet (15.79 square meters). The leading edge is swept 32º. The airplane’s empty weight is 7,200 pounds (3,266 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight is approximately 12,700 pounds (5,761 kilograms).

Northrop YT-38-5-NO 58-1191 in flight over Edwards AFB, 10 April 1959. (U.S. Air Force)
Northrop YT-38-5-NO 58-1191 in flight over Edwards AFB, 10 April 1959. (U.S. Air Force)

The T-38A is powered by two General Electric J85-GE-5 turbojet engines. The J85 is a single-shaft axial-flow turbojet engine with an 8-stage compressor section and 2-stage turbine. The J85-GE-5 is rated at 2,680 pounds of thrust (11.921 kilonewtons), and 3,850 pounds (17.126 kilonewtons) with afterburner. It is 108.1 inches (2.746 meters) long, 22.0 inches (0.559 meters) in diameter and weighs 584 pounds (265 kilograms).

The T-38A has a maximum speed of Mach 1.08 (822 miles per hour/1,323 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level, and Mach 1.3 (882 miles per hour/1,419 kilometers per hour) at 30,000 feet (9,144 meters). It has a rate of climb of 33,600 feet per minute (171 meters per second) and a service ceiling of 55,000 feet (16,764 meters). Its range is 1,140 miles (1,835 kilometers).

Northrop YT-38-5-NO Talon 58-1191. (Northrop)
Northrop YT-38-5-NO Talon 58-1191. (Northrop)

Between 1959 and 1972, 1,187 T-38s were built at Northrop’s Hawthorne, California factory. As of 2014, 546 T-38s remained in the U.S. Air Force active inventory. The U.S. Navy has 10, and NASA operates 15.

Northrop YT-38-5-NO Talon 58-1191. (Northrop)
Northrop YT-38-5-NO Talon 58-1191. (Northrop)
58-1191 and sister ship 58-1192 were converted to YT-38As. (Northrop)
Lewis A. Nelson. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)

Lewis Albert Nelson was born 13 September 1920 at San Diego, California, the second of three children of George Walter Nelson, an electrician, and Edith Clarissa Merrill Nelson. He grew up in Santa Cruz, California.

Nelson first flew in a Piper J-3 Cub as a teenager. While attending a junior college in 1939, he was accepted into the Civilian Pilot Training Program and continued while at San Jose State College, San Jose, California.

Nelson enlisted as an aviation cadet in the U.S. Army Air Corps at Moffett Field, California, 12 January 1942. He was 5 feet, 7 inches (1.702 meters) tall and weighed 154 pounds (69.9 kilograms). He served until 1947. He was twice awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

After leaving the Air Corps, Nelson studied aeronautical engineering at the University of Southern California (USC) in Los Angeles, graduating in 1949. He later earned a master’s degree from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

Lew Nelson worked as an aeronautical engineer for the National Advisory Commission on Aeronautics (NACA), and joined the Northrop Corporation as a test pilot in 1950. In 1952 he was promoted to Chief Experimental Test Pilot. Nelson made the first flights of a number of Northrop aircraft, such as the F-89 Scorpion, N-156 and F-5. Nelson retired from Northrop in 1986.

He married Elaine M. Miller, Clark County, Nevada, 28 April 1979.

Lewis Albert Nelson died at Menifee, California, 15 January 2015, at the age of 94 years. His remains were buried at sea.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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18 February 1962

Major Walter F. Daniel, U.S. Air Force, in the cockpit of Northrop T-38A-40-NO Talon 61-0849 at Edwards AFB after setting four Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) time-to-altitude world records, 18 February 1962. (U.S. Air Force)
Major Walter F. Daniel, U.S. Air Force, in the cockpit of Northrop T-38A-40-NO Talon 61-0849 at Edwards AFB after setting four Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) time-to-altitude world records, 18 February 1962. (U.S. Air Force)

18 February 1962: At Edwards Air Force Base, California, Major Walter Fletcher Daniel set four Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) time-to-altitude records with a Northrop T-38A-40-NO Talon, serial number 61-0849.

The supersonic trainer reached 3,000 meters (9,843 feet) in 35.624 seconds ¹; 6,000 meters (19,685 feet) in 51.429 seconds ²; 9,000 meters (29,528 feet) in 1 minute, 04.758 seconds ³; and 12,000 meters (39,370 feet) in 1 minute, 35.610 seconds ⁴.

Major Walter F. Daniel flew this Northrop T-38A-40-NO Talon, 61-0849, to four Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) time-to-altitude world records at Edwards AFB, 18 February 1962. (U.S. Air Force)
Major Walter F. Daniel flew this Northrop T-38A-40-NO Talon, 61-0849, to four Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) time-to-altitude world records at Edwards AFB, 18 February 1962. (U.S. Air Force)

The Northrop T-38A Talon is a two-place, twin-engine jet trainer capable of supersonic speed. It is 46 feet, 4 inches (14.122 meters) long with a wingspan of 25 feet, 3 inches (7.696 meters) and overall height of 12 feet, 10 inches (3.912 meters). The trainer’s empty weight is 7,200 pounds (3,266 kilograms) and the maximum takeoff weight is 12,093 pounds (5,485 kilograms).

The T-38A is powered by two General Electric J85-GE-5 turbojet engines. The J85 is a single-shaft axial-flow turbojet engine with an 8-stage compressor section and 2-stage turbine. The J85-GE-5 is rated at 2,680 pounds of thrust (11.921 kilonewtons), and 3,850 pounds (17.126 kilonewtons) with afterburner. It is 108.1 inches (2.746 meters) long, 22.0 inches (0.559 meters) in diameter and weighs 584 pounds (265 kilograms).

It has a maximum speed of Mach 1.08 (822 miles per hour, 1,323 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level. The Talon’s service ceiling of 55,000 feet (16,764 meters) and it has a maximum range of 1,093 miles (1,759 kilometers).

In production from 1961 to 1972, Northrop has produced nearly 1,200 T-38s. As of January 2014, the U.S. Air Force had 546 T-38A Talons in the active inventory. It also remains in service with the U.S. Navy, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Northrop T-38A-40-NO Talon 61-0849 at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, 1993. (Photograph courtesy of Gary Chambers)
Northrop T-38A-40-NO Talon 61-0849 at Dannelly Field, Montgomery, Alabama, 1993. (Photograph courtesy of Gary Chambers)

The record-setting T-38, 61-0849, was retired to The Boneyard at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Tucson, Arizona, in 1993. It was later removed from storage and assigned to the 415th Flight Test Flight, Randolph Air Force Base, Texas, where it remained until March 2007. It is now on display at the Air Force Flight Test Museum, Edwards Air Force Base, California.

Northrop T-38A-40-NO Talon 61-0849 being towed to display site at the Air Force Flight Test Museum. (Rebecca Amber/U.S. Air Force)
Northrop T-38A-40-NO Talon 61-0849 being towed from the restoration hangar to display site at the Air Force Flight Test Museum. (Rebecca Amber/U.S. Air Force)

Walter Fletcher Daniel was born in 1925. He entered the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1943 and was trained as a fighter pilot. He was assigned to fly North American P-51 Mustangs and Republic P-47 Thunderbolts in post-war Germany. During the Korean War he served as a reconnaissance pilot of RF-51s and RF-80 Shooting Stars.

Walter Daniel graduated from the U.S. Air Force Experimental Test Pilot School in 1954 and was assigned to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and later Edwards Air Force Base, where he was involved in flight testing all of the Century-series fighters. (F-100–F-106) It was while at Edwards that he flew the T-38A to set the time-to-altitude records.

By 1965, Colonel Daniel was the Chief of Flight Test Operations for the Lockheed YF-12A and SR-71A Blackbird Mach 3 aircraft. He set five world speed records and an altitude record and was awarded the Mackay Trophy.

After attending the Air War College, Daniel entered combat crew training in the McDonnell F-4 and RF-4 Phantom II, and was appointed Deputy Commander for Operations of the 432d Tactical Reconnaissance Wing at Udorn RTAFB. He flew 70 combat missions over North Vietnam.

In 1971 Colonel Daniel assumed command of the 75th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing (soon redesignated 67th TRW). He was promoted to brigadier general in 1972 and served as Inspector General, Air Force Systems Command.

Walter Fletcher Daniel was a member of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots. A command pilot, he had flown over 6,000 hours in more than 75 different aircraft types. General Daniel died 13 September 1974 at the age of 49 years. He is buried at the Arlington National Cemetery.

A team of volunteers place Northrop T-38A Talon 61-0849 in position at teh outdorr dsiplay area of the Air Force Flight Test Museum, Edwards Air force Base, California. (Rebecca Amber/U.S. Air Force)
A team of volunteers place Northrop T-38A Talon 61-0849 in position at the outdoor display area of the Air Force Flight Test Museum, Edwards Air Force Base, California. (Rebecca Amber/U.S. Air Force)

¹ FAI Record File Number 8718

² FAI Record File Number 8604

³ FAI Record File Number 8599

⁴ FAI Record File Number 8719

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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3 February 1995: 05:22:04 UTC, T minus Zero

Space Shuttle Discovery (STS-63) lifts off from Launch Complex 39B, Kennedy Space Center, 05:22:04 UTC, 3 February 1995. (NASA)

3 February 1995: At 12:22:04 a.m., Eastern Standard Time, Space Shuttle Discovery (OV-103) lifted off from Launch Complex 39B at the Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, Florida. The mission, STS-63, was a rendezvous with the Russian space station, Mir.

Commander James Donald Wetherbee, United States Navy, on his second space flight, was the mission commander. Lieutenant Colonel Eileen Marie Collins, United States Air Force, on her first space flight, was Discovery’s pilot. This was the first time in the NASA Space Shuttle Program that a woman had been assigned as pilot of a space shuttle.

Astronaut Eileen Collins aboard Discovery (STS-63). (NASA)

Also on board were Mission Specialists Bernard Anthony Harris, Jr., M.D.; Colin Michael Foale, Ph.D.; Janice Elaine Voss, Sc.D.; and Colonel Vladimir Georgiyevich Titov, Russian Air Force, of the Roscosmos State Corporation for Space Activities.

The primary purpose of the mission was to conduct a close approach and fly-around of Mir to demonstrate techniques prior to an actual docking, scheduled for a later flight. A number of scientific experiments and a space walk were carried out by the crew.

Discovery landed at the Kennedy Space Shuttle Landing Facility at 11:50:19 UTC, 11 February, after completing 129 orbits. The total mission duration was 8 days, 6 hours, 28 minutes, 15 seconds.

Eileen Collins was born at Elmira, New York, 19 November 1956, a daughter of Irish immigrants to the United States of America. She graduated from high school in 1974 then attended a community college where she earned an associate’s degree in Mathematics and Science, 1976. She went on to Syracuse University, graduating in 1978. In 1986 Collins earned a master of science degree in Operations Research from Stanford University, and three years later, received a second master’s degree in Space Systems Management from Webster University.

2nd Lieutenant Eileen M. Collins, USAF, with a Northrop T-38A Talon trainer at Vance AFB, September 1979. (U.S. Air Force)

Eileen Collins had expressed an interest in aviation and space flight from an early age. After graduating from Syracuse University, she was one of four women selected to attend U.S. Air Force pilot training at Vance Air Force Base, Oklahoma. She graduated in 1979, earning her pilot’s wings and was commissioned as a second lieutenant. She remained at Vance AFB as a pilot instructor, flying the Northrop T-38A Talon supersonic trainer.

Collins was next sent for pilot transition training in the Lockheed C-141 Starlifter, a four-engine transport. She served as a pilot at Travis Air Force Base, California.

From 1986–1989, Captain Collins was assigned as Assistant Professor in Mathematics at the U.S. Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, Colorado. Next, she was only the second woman to attend the Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base, graduating with Class 89B.

Major Eileen M. Collins, U.S. Air Force, with McDonnell F-4E-31-MC Phantom II 66-0289, at Edwards AFB, 1990. (U.S. Air Force)
Major Eileen M. Collins, U.S. Air Force, with McDonnell F-4E-31-MC Phantom II 66-0289, at Edwards AFB, 1990. (U.S. Air Force)

In 1990, Major Collins was accepted for the NASA astronaut program, and was selected as an astronaut in 1992.

Eileen Marie Collins was awarded the Harmon Trophy for her flight aboard Discovery (STS-63). In 1997, she flew as pilot for Atlantis (STS-84). She commanded Columbia (STS-93) in 1999, and Discovery (STS-114) in 2005.

Colonel Collins retired from the Air Force in January 2005, and from NASA in May 2006. With a remarkable record of four shuttle flights, she has logged 38 days, 8 hours, 10 minutes of space flight. During her career, she flew more than 30 aircraft types, and logged a total of 6,751 hours.

Colonel Eileen M. Collins, U.S. Air Force, NASA Astronaut. (Annie Liebovitz)
Colonel Eileen M. Collins, U.S. Air Force, NASA Astronaut. (Annie Liebovitz)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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12 October 1961

Jackie Cochran with her record-setting Northrop T-38A-30-NO Talon, 60-0551, at Edwards Air Force Base, 1961. (U.S. Air Force)
Jackie Cochran with her record-setting Northrop T-38A-30-NO Talon, 60-0551, at Edwards Air Force Base, 1961. (U.S. Air Force)

12 October 1961: From August to October 1961, Jackie Cochran, a consultant to Northrop Corporation, set a series of speed, distance and altitude records while flying a Northrop T-38A-30-NO Talon supersonic trainer, serial number 60-0551. On the final day of the record series, she set two Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) world records, taking the T-38 to altitudes of 55,252.6 feet (16,841 meters) in horizontal flight ¹ and reaching a peak altitude of 56,072.8 feet (17,091 meters). ²

Jacqueline Cochran’s Diplôme de Record in the San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives. (Bryan R. Swopes)
Jacqueline Cochran’s Diplôme de Record in the San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives. (Bryan R. Swopes)
Jacqueline Cochran’s Diplôme de Record in the San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives. (Bryan R. Swopes)
Jacqueline Cochran’s Diplôme de Record in the San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives. (Bryan R. Swopes)
Northrop T-38A-30-NO Talon at Edwards Air Force Base, California. (U.S. Air Force)
Northrop T-38A-30-NO Talon 60-0551 at Edwards Air Force Base, California. (U.S. Air Force)

Famed U.S. Air Force test pilot Chuck Yeager, a close friend of Jackie Cochran, kept notes during the record series:

“October 12  Jackie took off at 9 am in the T-38 using afterburner. Bud Anderson and I chased her in the F-100. It was an excellent flight with everything working perfect. Jackie entered the course at 55,800 feet at .93 Mach and accelerated to radar. At the end of the run Jackie pulled up to 56,800 and then pushed over. She cut the right afterburner at 52,000 feet and the left one at 50,000. At 12,000 feet she removed the face piece from her pressure suit and made a perfect landing on the lake bed.

“Northrop-Air (Norair) presented Miss Cochran with one dozen yellow roses.

“A very tender ending to a wonderful program and a fitting token to a wonderful lady—a pilot who gave Norair much more than they expected.”

— Brigadier General Charles Elwood (“Chuck”) Yeager, U.S. Air Force, quoted in Jackie Cochran: An Autobiography, by Jacqueline Cochran and Maryann Bucknum Brinley, Bantam Books, New York, 1987, Pages 307–308.

Jackie Cochran and Chuck Yeager at Edwards Air Force Base, California, after a flight in the record-setting Northrop T-38A Talon. (U.S. Air Force)
Jackie Cochran and Chuck Yeager at Edwards Air Force Base, California, after a flight in the record-setting Northrop T-38A Talon. (U.S. Air Force)

The T-38A is a two-seat, twin-engine jet trainer capable of supersonic speed. It is powered by two General Electric J85-5A turbojet engines producing 2,050 pounds of thrust (3,850 with afterburner). Jackie Cochran demonstrated its maximum speed, Mach 1.3. It has a service ceiling of 50,000 feet (15,240 meters) and a range of 1,140 miles (1,835 kilometers). In production from 1961 to 1972, Northrop has produced nearly 1,200 T-38s. It remains in service with the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Jackie Cochran’s record-setting T-38 is in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution, National Air and Space Museum.

¹ FAI Record File Number 12884

² FAI Record File Number 12855

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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