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Boeing T-43 (Gator) - United States, 1973

Detailing the development and operational history of the Boeing T-43 (Gator) Navigational Trainer / VIP Transport Aircraft.

 Entry last updated on 3/17/2017; Authored by Staff Writer; Content ¬©

  Boeing T-43 (Gator)  
Picture of Boeing T-43 (Gator)
Picture of Boeing T-43 (Gator) Picture of Boeing T-43 (Gator)Picture of Boeing T-43 (Gator)Picture of Boeing T-43 (Gator)Picture of Boeing T-43 (Gator)

The Boeing T-43 series of navigational trainers went on to serve the US military for 37 years prior to its retirement in 2010.

In the early 1970s, the United States Air Force commissioned the Boeing concern to develop and deliver an airborne navigational training platform for use in educating up-and-coming Combat Systems Officers (CSOs) in the fine art of map-reading and situational response. Boeing responded by modifying the 737-200 airframe for the role, outfitting the passenger area with the required equipment that would serve as the in-flight classroom. After completing testing and evaluation, the USAF proceeded to procure some nineteen examples as roughly $5.4 million per unit. The aircraft was designated as the T-43 and entered USAF service in 1973, serving actively for decades until their official retirement in 2010. The T-43 formally replaced the aged, prop-powered Convair C-131 Samaritan training platforms (as the "T-29") in service since 1950. New T-43s were first assigned to the 323rd Flying Training Wing at Mather AFB in California before activity permanently moved the fleet to Randolph AFB in Texas under the 12th Flying Training Wing badge.

Outwardly, there was little of the T-43 to sell its true role save the occasional antenna protrusion. The aircraft appeared every bit the part of the 737-200 passenger airliner. The cockpit was held well-forward behind a short nosecone assembly. The fuselage was tubular and short, capped at the end by a single vertical tail fin and a pair of horizontal planes (each with slight dihedral). The main wing appendages were lo-mounted along the fuselage sides and carried turbofan engines in underslung nacelles. The undercarriage consisted of a pair of double-wheeled main legs and a double-tired nose leg. While the forward portion of the fuselage allowed for viewing through a framed windscreen, the passenger cabin was lined with rectangular viewing ports. Rectangular doors allowed for access to the aircraft.

The primary trainer model was the T-43A, based on the Boeing Model 737-253 series and powered by a pair of Pratt & Whitney JT8D-9 series turbofan engines of 14,500lbf thrust each. The crew included two pilots while passengers were made up of up to three instructors along with 16 student seating positions (12 basic, 4 advanced). Each workspace was aligned to the right side wall of the fuselage which allowed instructors to assist students individually. All nineteen airframes accepted by the USAF were of the T-43A type. The aircraft could manage a top speed of 560 miles per hour up to a service ceiling of 37,000 feet and a range out to 3,000 miles. It is noteworthy that the T-43A's flying record proved spotless in its many decades of service (save for the 1996 Croatian event mentioned below).

Each student workspace allowed for fine-tune training in the art of navigation found on modern aircraft types as well as up-to-date communications and avionics packages. The inclusion of GPS-aided navigation eventually retired the tried-and-true method of star-based navigation for new recruits. The program proved successful enough that the United States Navy merged its own training program into the USAF T-43-based program. Ultimately, the T-43A series outlived its usefulness with the US military and was retired in 2010 (through a formal ceremony marking the event).

While the T-43A was primarily utilized as an airborne school for most of its career, the airframe began serving several other useful roles before her retirement. The "NT-43A" designation marked a single T-43A modified to serve as an in-flight radar test aircraft for some time. Furthermore, at least six T-43A airframes were later converted to VIP passenger transports as the "CT-43A". One such aircraft crashed into a mountainside (due to pilot error) on April 3rd, 1996 over Croatia, killing US Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown and 34 others.

T-43A aircraft were unofficially referred to as "Gators" (as in "navigators") during their service life. Many affectionately recognized her as the "Flying Classroom".

Boeing T-43A (Gator) Specifications

Service Year: 1973
Type: Navigational Trainer / VIP Transport Aircraft
National Origin: United States
Manufacturer(s): Boeing Company - USA
Total Production: 19

Structural (Crew, Dimensions, Weights)

Operating Crew (Typical): 2 + 19
Overall Length: 99.41 feet (30.3 meters)
Overall Width: 92.52 feet (28.20 meters)
Overall Height: 36.75 feet (11.20 meters)

Weight (Empty): 64,155 lb (29,100 kg)
Weight (MTOW): 117,506 lb (53,300 kg)

Power / Performance (Engine Type, Top Speed)

Engine: 2 x Pratt & Whitney JT8D-9A turbofans developing 14,500lb of thrust each.

Maximum Speed: 488 knots (562 mph; 904 kph)
Maximum Range: 2,592 nautical miles (2,983 miles; 4,800 km)
Service Ceiling: 36,745 feet (11,200 meters; 6.96 miles)
Rate-of-Climb: 3,760 feet-per-minute (1,146 m/min)

Armament / Mission Payload


Global Operators (Customers, Users)

United States

Model Variants

737-200 - Base Boeing Series Model on which the T-43 is based on.
T-43 - Base Series Designation
T-43A - Primary Navigational Trainer designation; 19 examples delivered to the USAF.
CT-43A - Six examples converted for VIP passenger transport role from active T-43A airframes.
NT-43A - One-off T-43A airframe converted for use as in-flight radar system test-bed.

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