NASA's T-38 #963 takes off from Long
Beach-Daugherty Field, CA 3/8/2006
Photo: Jerry Search
11/5/2007 - EL SEGUNDO, CA -- The first
production-configuration T-38 pilot training aircraft
built for the U.S. Air Force by Northrop Grumman
Corporation landed today at Los Angeles International
Airport (LAX) and rolled to a stop for the very last
The sleek, white supersonic aircraft now sporting a
NASA logo, a blue nose-to-tail racing stripe and tail
number N963, came to rest on the tarmac outside the
former LAX Imperial terminal -- now home to the Flight
Path Learning Center & Museum -- where company
executives, employees and aviation enthusiasts had
been waiting excitedly to witness aviation history.
After 46 years of serving the pilot training needs of
the Air Force, the U.S. Navy and NASA, the Hawthorne,
Calif.-built N963 aircraft and the oldest T-38 trainer
still flying, was home.
"T-38 trainers, known to pilots as the 'White
Rocket,' have been in service since 1961, preparing an
estimated 80,000 military pilots to fly front line
fighters and bombers," said George Vardoulakis, vice
president of tactical systems for F/A-18 programs for
Northrop Grumman's Integrated Systems sector. "They
continue to be among the safest, most reliable and
highest performing supersonic aircraft in service
today, a testament to Northrop Grumman's enduring
strength as a first tier designer, developer, producer
and maintainer of manned military aircraft."
Approximately 700 of the 1187 T-38s built from 1959
to 1972 remain operational today, he added. N963,
which has spent its last 16 years training NASA
shuttle pilots, was officially retired earlier this
spring. The company plans to put the plane on
permanent static display at Integrated Systems' sector
headquarters in El Segundo.
The pilot for N963's final flight was Dave Finney,
chief of aircraft operations for NASA's Johnson Space
Center in Houston. He piloted the twin-seat,
twin-engine aircraft from Houston's Ellington Field to
Los Angeles with refueling stops in El Paso, Texas,
After shutting down the aircraft's engines for the
last time, Finney raised the canopy, climbed down the
T-38's built-in ladder, and saluted the crowd. He was
greeted on the tarmac by Vardoulakis and Roy Martin,
the chief test pilot for Northrop Grumman Integrated
Systems Western Region.
The NASA N963 T-38 trainer began life as an Air Force
T-38 trainer with tail number 59-1603. It was among
the first T-38s to roll off Northrop Grumman's
aircraft assembly line in Hawthorne. The aircraft was
officially delivered to the Air Force on January 31,
1961 then transferred to Edwards Air Force Base, where
it participated in the final year of the T-38 flight
Over the next 45 years, its journey as a trainer
aircraft included stops at many military installations
around the country, including:
1962 -- Delivered to Randolph AFB, Texas, to serve as
Air Force Training Command's primary supersonic
1964 -- Sent to Dobbins AFB, Georgia, to serve as a
chase plane for newly designed aircraft.
1966 -- Transferred along with three other T-38s to
Los Angeles International Airport to help train
astronauts for Manned Orbiting Laboratory missions.
1969 -- Returned to Edwards AFB, Calif., to serve as
a chase plane and to help maintain pilot proficiency.
1972 -- Transferred to China Lake Naval Weapons
Center with the intention of making it into a drone,
or unmanned target aircraft, capable of being operated
by radio control.
1974 -- Entered service at Navy's Top Gun air combat
training program at Miramar Naval Air Station, San
Diego. In this role, T-38 and pilot mimicked Soviet
fighter aircraft to help train Navy aviators in
air-to-air combat techniques.
1976 -- Returned to China Lake Naval Weapons Center
where its rear cockpit received drone equipment. Over
the next ten years, served as an air-to-air radar
target, a chase plane, and pilot proficiency plane,
participating in both manned and unmanned missions.
1987 -- Transferred to Fallon Naval Air Station,
Nev., to serve as a pilot proficiency aircraft.
1989 -- 1991 Transferred to NASA, then underwent
complete renovation, including replacement of key
structural components; installation of new wings, new
landing gear, improved ejection seats and radar
altimeter; significant rewiring of the cockpit and
nose sections; and replacement of its canopy and
1991 -- Returned to service as a trainer aircraft for
2007 -- Retired from active duty and returned to
Northrop Grumman for long term static display.
Northrop Grumman has been producing replacement wings
for T-38 trainers since the 1980s. A redesigned wing
that went into production in 2006 will be used to
retrofit the entire fleet. The new wing, which the
company is producing in its El Segundo aircraft
manufacturing facility, is expected to extend the
operational life of T-38s to approximately 2040.
Source: Northrop Grumman Press Release