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Northrop T-38 Talon

Supersonic Jet-Powered Advanced Training Aircraft

Northrop T-38 Talon

Supersonic Jet-Powered Advanced Training Aircraft


The Northrop T-38 Talon has managed for itself a storied career - primarily in service with the United States Air Force as a supersonic advanced trainer.
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ORIGIN: United States
YEAR: 1961
STATUS: Active, In-Service
MANUFACTURER(S): Northrop Corporation - USA
OPERATORS: Germany; Portugal; South Korea; Taiwan; Turkey; United States

Unless otherwise noted the presented statistics below pertain to the Northrop T-38A Talon model. Common measurements, and their respective conversions, are shown when possible.
LENGTH: 46.39 feet (14.14 meters)
WIDTH: 25.26 feet (7.7 meters)
HEIGHT: 12.86 feet (3.92 meters)
WEIGHT (EMPTY): 7,209 pounds (3,270 kilograms)
WEIGHT (MTOW): 11,817 pounds (5,360 kilograms)
ENGINE: 2 x General Electric J85-GE-5A afterburning turbojet engines developing 2,680 lb dry thrust and 3,850 lb thrust with afterburner.
SPEED (MAX): 857 miles-per-hour (1,380 kilometers-per-hour; 745 knots)
RANGE: 1,140 miles (1,835 kilometers; 991 nautical miles)
CEILING: 50,000 feet (15,240 meters; 9.47 miles)
RATE-OF-CLIMB: 33,600 feet-per-minute (10,241 meters-per-minute)

None. Some variants feature provisions for practice bomb dispensers for weapons training.

Series Model Variants
• T-38 "Talon" - Base Series Designation
• N-165T - Northrop Company Designation
• YT-38 - Developmental prototypes; three completed; joined by pre-production airframes.
• T-38A - Initial and definitive production mark; 1,139 examples.
• T-38A(N) - NASA A-models
• T-38C - Mid-Life Upgrade (MLU) variant of A-model
• T-38M - Turkish Air Force variant
• AT-38A - Weapons Trainer
• AT-38B - Weapons Trainer
• DT-38A - USN drone directors from A-models
• QT-38A - Unmanned drone aircraft from A-models
• NT-38A - Converted research platforms
• N-205 - Proposed triple-rocket powered vertical launch aircraft.
• ST-38 (N-205B) - Revised, proposed rocket-assisted vertical launch model.


Detailing the development and operational history of the Northrop T-38 Talon Supersonic Jet-Powered Advanced Training Aircraft.  Entry last updated on 8/6/2018. Authored by Staff Writer. Content ©
The Northrop T-38 "Talon" is a dedicated supersonic advanced trainer used by a handful of global air powers today - though its primary user remains the United States Air Force (USAF). The aircraft belongs to the same family of jets as the Northrop F-5 "Freedom Fighter", the "F-5 Tiger II" and the F-20 "Tigershark" and its general design shows the similarities. It fits a pair of turbofan engines in a side-by-side arrangement, showcases small wing surfaces, and sports a single vertical fin at the rear. Its identifying feature is its tandem-seat cockpit for two. The base T-38 flight model does not support munitions for the light attack role as seen in other modern advanced jet trainers though some variants were developed for weapons training. The T-38 series allows for the training of airmen cadets and veteran pilots alike where speeds over Mach 1 are required - such as in fighter and astronaut training. The T-38 is, therefore, also used by NASA both as a trainer and a chase plane.

When adopted, the T-38 became the world's first supersonic trainer.

Origins of the T-38 place it in the 1950s when an offshoot to the Northrop lightweight fighter line was developed as an in-house initiative against no formal specification with the USAF. At this time, the USAF was still relying on still relying on its fleet of subsonic Lockheed T-33 "Shooting Star" trainers which arrived in the late 1940s. In 1957, the Cessna T-37 "Tweet" would be adopted but this too remained a subsonic design in USAF service. Interested in the proposed supersonic Northrop design, the USAF moved on development which produced the "YT-38" designation. Three prototypes were eventually ordered and flown, the first on March 10th, 1959.

In short order, the aircraft was adopted and plans made for large-scale procurement. Manufacture spanned from 1961 to 1972 to which 1,146 units would be delivered to the USAF and others including the United States Navy (USN) (used for a time as aggressor aircraft). Deliveries began in 1961 under the formal production designation of "T-38 Talon". In Northrop nomenclature, the aircraft was company model "N-156T".

The T-38 was certainly a no-frills aircraft. It retained the same general form and function of the Northrop F-5/F-20 line of aircraft with their most notable quality being the small-area mainplanes that were low-mounted stubs along the fuselage sides. A short nosecone sat ahead of the two-seat, tandem cockpit which saw the student in front and the instructor in the back. Both positions offered excellent views of the surrounding area. The fuselage was well-contoured for aerodynamic efficiency and promoted a slim profile from all angles. The fuselage spine began the base of the single vertical tail fin which was of a tapering shape and clipped at its tip. The tailplanes were low mounted and small-area surfaces. The engines were installed side-by-side and aspirated through small individual intakes located to the sides of the fuselage, just aft of the cockpit placement. The undercarriage was of a tricycle arrangement and retractable, keeping the ventral side of the T-38 rather clean and noticeably flat.

Northrop T-38 Talon (Cont'd)

Supersonic Jet-Powered Advanced Training Aircraft

Northrop T-38 Talon (Cont'd)

Supersonic Jet-Powered Advanced Training Aircraft

From the YT-38 developmental models emerged the production-quality "T-38A" variant of which 1,139 were eventually produced - this making the A-models the definitive mark of the line. NASA took on the form as "T-38A(N)" - NASA eventually operating a fleet of some 32 Talon aircraft. A weapons trainer variant was developed from A-models that became the "AT-38A". The USN utilized modified T-38As as drone directors under the "DT-38A" designation and unmanned drone aircraft were then designated as "QY-38A". "NT-38A" were known test-related airframes and the "AT-38B" became a weapons trainer version. The improved "T-38C" appeared with new avionics and a revised structure in an effort to extend the useful service lives of the aircraft family. Head-Up Display (HUD), GPS navigation and revised engines were all introduced with C-models.

Several proposed experimental variants were championed for a time including a unique VTOL version (Vertical Take-Off and Landing), the Mach 3.2-capable "N-205" triple-rocket aircraft for fast vertical take-off and the "ST-38" based on the N-25 super-high-speed concept.

Turkey became a foreign operator of the T-38 line and its aircraft were designated as "T-38M", these based on the T-38A production model. Other operators went on to include Germany, Portugal, South Korea, and Taiwan - though none managed the numbers in inventory that the United States did. Portugal and South Korea are now former operators of T-38 Talons.

With its storied career now more written than not, the USAF has enacted the "T-X" program in an effort to find a modern advanced jet trainer to replace its stock of T-38 Talons. To the participants of the program, the T-X stands as a lucrative deal that would most likely net a contract for hundreds of aircraft. As it stands today (July 2014), the T-38 has enjoyed a service career spanning some 53 total years - an amazing tenure for any military aircraft. It is thought that the T-38 will remain a viable training entity until 2020.

Northrop states that some 72,000 USAF pilots were born from the T-38 Talon's faithful service.


Our Data Modules allow for quick visual reference when comparing a single entry against contemporary designs. Areas covered include general ratings, speed assessments, and relative ranges based on distances between major cities.

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Relative Maximum Speed Rating
Hi: 1000mph
Lo: 500mph
    This entry's maximum listed speed (857mph).

    Graph average of 750 miles-per-hour.
City-to-City Ranges
Graph showcases the Northrop T-38A Talon's operational range (on internal fuel) when compared to distances between major cities.
Aviation Era
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Useful in showcasing the era cross-over of particular aircraft/aerospace designs.
Unit Production Comparison
Comm. Market HI*: 44,000 units
Military Market HI**: 36,183 units

  * Commercial Market High belongs to Cessna 172.

  ** Military Market High belongs to Ilyushin Il-2.

Altitude Visualization
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Supported Roles
Ground Attack
Aerial Tanker
A2A=Air-to-Air; UAV=Unmanned; CAS=Close Support; ASW=Anti-Submarine; AEW=Airborne Early Warning; MEDEVAC=Medical Evac; EW=Electronic Warfare; SAR=Search-Rescue
Commitments / Honors
Military lapel ribbon for Operation Allied Force
Military lapel ribbon for the Arab-Israeli War
Military lapel ribbon for the Battle of Britain
Military lapel ribbon for the Battle of Midway
Military lapel ribbon for the Berlin Airlift
Military lapel ribbon for the Chaco War
Military lapel ribbon for the Cold War
Military lapel ribbon for the Cuban Missile Crisis
Military lapel ribbon for pioneering aircraft
Military lapel ribbon for the Falklands War
Military lapel ribbon for the French-Indochina War
Military lapel ribbon for the Golden Age of Flight
Military lapel ribbon for the 1991 Gulf War
Military lapel ribbon for the Indo-Pak Wars
Military lapel ribbon for the Iran-Iraq War
Military lapel ribbon for the Korean War
Military lapel ribbon for the 1982 Lebanon War
Military lapel ribbon for the Malayan Emergency
Military lapel ribbon representing modern aircraft
Military lapel ribbon for the attack on Pearl Harbor
Military lapel ribbon for the Six Day War
Military lapel ribbon for the Soviet-Afghan War
Military lapel ribbon for the Spanish Civil War
Military lapel ribbon for the Suez Crisis
Military lapel ribbon for the Vietnam War
Military lapel ribbon for Warsaw Pact of the Cold War-era
Military lapel ribbon for the WASP (WW2)
Military lapel ribbon for the World War 1
Military lapel ribbon for the World War 2
Military lapel ribbon for the Yom Kippur War
Military lapel ribbon for experimental x-plane aircraft
* Ribbons not necessarily indicative of actual historical campaign ribbons. Ribbons are clickable to their respective campaigns/operations.

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