A private unveiling of a “slightly” outdated Northrop Grumman’s T-X advanced trainer model reveals an unmistakeable likeness with the T-38 Talon and a strategic focus on cost control to win the hotly-contested US Air Force competition.
Northrop plans to publicly unveil and fly an internally funded prototype of the company’s T-X trainer concept early next year. Offering a sneak-peek to journalists on 10 December, Tom Vice, president of Northrop’s Aerospace Systems sector, appeared visibly conflicted over whether he should give away key features of the concept up to the last concept.
In the end, he decided to lift the veil on the model, but not allow pictures. The aircraft unveiled early next year at Northrop’s flight test base in Mojave, California, will include small changes, he adds.
“When you’re in Mojave and see the final design you’ll see a slightly different airplane,” Vice says, “but this will give you a good indication of where we’re heading.”
The model revealed a low-winged trainer with cheek-mounted fan inlets, an area-ruled fuselage, a structural chine running backward from the nose and a conventional single tail. Comparisons to the existing T-38 design were unavoidable, a fact acknowledged by Kevin Mickey, vice-president of advanced design at Northrop.
“In every Porsche you can see a little bit of a 360 in it. You can go all the way back to 1957 and see a little 360 in it,” Mickey says, “and Tom said to me, ‘I can see a little bit of T-38 in it’.”
One journalist replied with a note of sarcasm, “Just a little bit?”
After a viewing lasting less than 90s, Vice directed his staff to recover the model.
“I really don’t want my competitors to know just how innovative that airplane is because they have time to modify there designs and compete with us,” Vice says.
The T-X competitors – which include Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Alenia Aermacchi – have to meet a set of challenging performance requirements for a high sustained g and a high sustained angle of attack, but for a price lower than it costs to build a Lockheed Martin F-16.
“All of that is really hard, but not nearly as hard as doing it at a cost the country can afford,” Vice says.