Chair Force Engineer

Monday, March 27, 2006

Training Day

I see many uncertainties over the horizon in the way that the US Air Force trains its pilots. Most of the uncertainty swirls around the venerable T-38. The plane is aging, with the newest examples having been built in the early 70's. Recent modifications have installed a glass cockpit and enhanced low-altitude performance, with the cost being the loss of supersonic capabilities. With the T-38 unable to simulate supersonic fighters, is it still the plane to be counted on for training our hot-shot fighter jocks?

My idea was to modify the T-38's bigger cousin, the F-5F, into a trainer. The airframes would be new builds, with the shark-nose and leading edge extension upgrades. The old J85 engines would be replaced with something newer, like the Honeywell F124, if found to be cost-effective.

I ran this idea past a wise "Yoda" of the aerospace industry. He pontificated his belief that the secret to training pilots was not in giving them a hot little supersonic jet to fly, but in increasing their flight hours. His suggestion was to take very light bizjets (like the Eclipse 500 and Citation Mustang) and outfit them with cockpits simulating today's modern fighters. Much like the bizjet that NASA uses to simulate Shuttle landings, these jets would have modified flaps to simulate various fighters, bombers, and transports.

The idea of Very Light Jets being used as trainers struck me as being very pragmatic and cost-effective. Granted, they will never come close to the performance of an F-16 or F-22, or even "the BUFF." But they still build familiarity with the type's handling characteristics and allow student pilots to get more flight hours at a reasonable cost.