Two AT-38B Talons Now Assigned to NASA Dryden FRC

NASA Dryden AT-38Bs #863 and #864 are used to perform pitot-static airspeed calibration checks 9/26/07
Photo: Jim Ross

11/30/2007 - On February 24, 2005, NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center received AT-38B serial #68-8113. When Dryden's chief pilot Gordon Fullerton taxied up to NASA's ramp at Edwards Air Force Base, it marked the first time in over ten years that a T-38 Talon had been assigned to Dryden. The aircraft would eventually be identified at the center as NASA #864 (N864NA).

The Northrop built T-38 Talon has been the mainstay of fighter type aircraft in the NASA fleet since the mid 1960s, but most of them have been assigned to the JSC. The updated T-38N model is presently flown by astronauts training in the space shuttle program. Dryden FRC originally had two T-38 aircraft assigned to them for mission support as well, but the Talons were removed from the Dryden fleet in the mid 1990's, leaving only the F/A-18s to fill the support role. The downside however, was the higher cost associated with using the Hornet model as the primary support aircraft. The T-38 uses less fuel than the Hornet and is also less costly to maintain. This was the main factor in the decision to to bring Talons back to Dryden.

NASA Dryden AT-38Bs #863 and #864 fly in formation over Edwards AFB 9/26/07
Photo: Jim Ross

T-38 serial #68-8113 was built as a standard T-38A and eventually reconfigured for the USAF as an AT-38B. The AT-38B modifications included an added weapons pylon and gun-sight, thereby allowing the aircraft to carry gun pods, rockets or practice bombs. This variation of the Talon was created specifically for the USAF Lead-in-Fighter Trainer (LIFT) program. LIFT Talons were created as a stop-gap aircraft to be used between basic training in the T-38A and advanced fighter types. #68-8113 was originally assigned to the JSC. Before coming to Dryden it spent time at NASA's Langley Research Center as #564 (N564NA), where it was used to support numerous research projects for a number of years.

The NASA Dryden folks were apparently happy with having a T-38 back at the center, because in 2007 they brought in a second Talon. AT-38B serial #68-8116 is also now assigned to Dryden as #863 (N863NA). Both of the 'new' AT-38Bs were flown together for the first time on September 26, 2007 while NASA research pilots Kelly Latimer and Frank Batteas performed pitot-static airspeed calibration checks, during routine pilot proficiency flights. At one point they joined in formation with NASA pilot Dick Ewers in one of the Dryden F/A-18s, to fly the calibrations at speeds and altitudes that would be flown by the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) 747 during its flight test phase.

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