Boeing executives expect the US Air Force to delay replacing the Northrop T-38C Talon by several years as the company continues to promote the costlier option of developing a new jet trainer.

On 7 June, Boeing Phantom Works president Darryl Davis opened discussion on the T-X programme, saying he "understands" budget pressures have already forced USAF officials to delay a T-38 replacement by several years.

But Boeing Military Aircraft president Chris Chadwick softened that message, saying he "can see [T-X] slipping to the right a year or two" as part of broader budget pressures.

Global Support Systems president Tony Parasida hedged his predictions, however. "Our expectation is that it will slide out," he said. But he declined to rule out other possibilities, adding: "I'm banking on all options."

Boeing's gloomy outlook for launching the T-X programme on schedule within the next two years came as a surprise to the USAF and at least one competitor. Since 2008, the Air Education and Training Command (AETC), which operates the T-38C fleet, has been committed to fielding the first operational T-X jet in fiscal year 2017.

 T-38C - USAF
© US Air Force
The Air Education and Training Command may have to fly on its aged T-38C Talons

"The air force has not, at this point, delayed T-X [initial operational capability]," AETC said when asked for a response. It said it is continuing with its budgeting process to have the IOC of T-X in FY2017.

BAE Systems is preparing to offer an off-the-shelf Hawk advanced jet training system and is unaware of any delay.

"We are talking to the customer regularly and we are obviously aware of budget pressures, but [there's] no suggestion of that sort of delay at this time," BAE said.

The competitive field also includes the Lockheed Martin/Korea Aerospace Industries T-50 Golden Eagle and the Alenia Aermacchi M-346, rebranded for the USAF bid as the T-100.

Boeing has kept its ideas for a clean-sheet design a closely guarded secret, but it is clear the company has been working on concepts for at least two years.

On 7 June, a group of journalists touring a Boeing simulation facility glimpsed a digital image of a new single-engined jet wearing the white-on-grey colours of AETC.

An icon on a control station screen for a T-X simulator showed a new concept for a two-seat jet with shallow V-tails similar to the Northrop YF-23 prototype. The simulation at the time presented a scenario based at Randolph AFB, Texas - the headquarters of the command acquiring the T-38 replacement.

The icon represented a notional aircraft's track on a simulator operator's control screen, emulating the movements commanded by the "pilot" flying the jet in a simulated cockpit.

Boeing officials denied that the image represented a concept for a clean-sheet T-X design, but did not explain how the image was created. No photographs were allowed inside the facility, and Boeing declined requests to release a picture of the aircraft concept.

Source: Flight International