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Talon clings on as US Air Force extends upgrade programme

The US Air Force is planning further life extension structural modifications to the Northrop T-38 Talon advanced trainer to complement on-going powerplant, wing and avionics upgrades.

A request for proposals for the design and development of new air inlets and fuselage bulkheads is expected to be released before the end of this year, according to an air force official. A contract is due to be awarded by next May, which could lead to the upgrade of 470 T-38B and AT-38Bs .

The work complements the T-38 propulsion modernisation programme. General Electric is designing a new ejector nozzle to improve the fuel efficiency and hot-and-high performance of the trainer's twin J85 turbojets.

Separately Northrop Grumman is developing the Dash 33 standard wing. Design work is due to be completed by the end of the year and damage tolerance analysis by the third quarter of 2000, after which the USAF plans to award a contract to build a prototype wing. Planned production start is 2006.

The new wing is designed to double the existing Dash 29 standard wing's fatigue life to 8,600h and extend the aircraft's operational life to around 2040.

"We've been asked to design it with no changes in mold line, no weight increase or use of exotic materials including composites," says Northrop Grumman F-5/T-38 programme manager Mike Major.

The wing will feature stronger alloy, increased cold work holes and redesigned access doors. Many Dash 29 wings are falling short of the 4,300h design life as Air Education Training Command has shifted its baseline syllabus towards the use of more demanding lead-in fighter training.

To bridge the gap until the Dash 33 wing is available, the USAF has ordered 55 improved Dash 29 wing shipsets, to be delivered at a rate of one a month from 2001. Boeing is scheduled to deliver the first T-38C with upgraded avionics in early 2000.