Boeing is expecting the Northrop T-38C Avionics Upgrade Programme (AUP) to be given full production go-ahead by the end of March following the start of US Air Force operational evaluation of the tandem-seat trainer. Northrop Grumman, at the same time, has begun production of replacement wingsets.

The USAF started T-38C operational evaluations in early January at Columbus AFB, Mississippi, using three low rate initial production (LRIP) aircraft. This effort is due to be completed by the end of this month. Subject to a favourable report, the USAF's Air Education and Training Command (AETC) intends to proceed with modernisation of its 509 T-38B Talons.

A full rate production decision had been targeted for September 2000, but this was postponed. "There were hardware problems with display readability in the development test activity that delayed us," says Keith Hertzenberg, Boeing vice president modernisation and upgrade programmes.

Boeing has already been awarded two LRIP contracts covering a total of 38 retrofit kits and 12 actual aircraft installations. In addition to the three T-38Cs delivered there are seven aircraft at various stages of modernisation at its Williams Gateway facility in Mesa, Arizona.

The T-38C is scheduled to reach an initial operational capability at AETC's Moody AFB, Georgia base, by June. Boeing and partner Israel Aircraft Industries plan to upgrade the T-38C fleet at the rate of 75-80 aircraft per year. AUP includes installation of new Honeywell inertial/satellite navigation systems, air data computer and multi-functional displays.

The USAF is also considering an option to fit the aircraft with TACAN, as well as follow-on testing using two T-38C development aircraft at Edwards AFB. "The USAF has asked us to make some changes and we're looking at different display formats," says Hertzenberg.

Northrop, in a parallel but separate structural effort, has started building 55 replacement wings for the T-38 for delivery from October. The work is an interim step while the company completes the design of a new extended life wing. This is due to enter production in 2006, and will then be fitted to all T-38Cs.

The AUP and new wing, along with planned improvements to the General Electric J85-6 engine, is designed to extend the life of the T-38 out to 2040.

Source: Flight International