Boeing has been awarded the T-X Pilot Training Program contract by the USAF. The $9.2 billion deal, announced on September 27, is for 351 new jet trainers to replace the air force’s ageing Northrop T-38C Talons and also includes 46 simulators and associated ground equipment.
The first T-X aircraft and simulators are scheduled to arrive at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas, in 2023. All undergraduate pilot training bases will eventually transition from the T-38 to the T-X. Those stations include: Columbus AFB, Mississippi; Laughlin AFB, Texas; Sheppard AFB, Texas and Vance AFB, Oklahoma. Initial operating capability for the new aircraft with the USAF is planned for 2024 and full operational capability by 2034.
Boeing and its risk-sharing partner Saab designed, built and flew the first T-X in only 36 months. The twin-tail trainer is powered by a single General Electric F404 afterburning engine that produces in the region of 17,700-19,000lb (78-80.5kN) thrust, compared with the two GE J-85s of the T-38, which pump out some 2,900lb (12.9kN) each.
The hard-fought competition to replace the 57-year-old T-38 fleet began in March 2015, with the issuing of a requirements list, followed by a formal request for proposals (RFP) on December 30, 2016. Strong interest was shown by several manufacturers, with contractor teams led by Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Leonardo, Northrop Grumman and Raytheon being widely reported as being at the forefront.
Raytheon withdrew from the competition in January 2017, and Northrop Grumman decided not to bid. Others fell by the wayside, with the final candidates being Boeing’s design, the Leonardo DRS T-100 (based on the M-346 Master) and the Lockheed Martin T-50A.
With Saab’s support, Boeing built two T-X demonstration aircraft, the first of which – N381TX – completed its first flight from St Louis, Missouri, on December 20, 2016. The second jet, N382TX, flew on April 24, 2017.
Boeing is now clear to begin placing orders with its suppliers, including Saab. More than 90% of Boeing’s offering will be made in America, apparently supporting more than 17,000 jobs in 34 states.
Leanne Caret, president and CEO, Boeing Defense, Space & Security said: “Today’s announcement is the culmination of years of unwavering focus by the Boeing and Saab team. It is a direct result of our joint investment in developing a system centred on the unique requirements of the US Air Force. We expect T-X to be a franchise programme for much of this century.”
Håkan Buskhe, president and CEO of Saab, commented: “This selection allows our two companies to deliver on a commitment we jointly made nearly five years ago. It is a major accomplishment for our partnership with Boeing and our joint team, and I look forward to delivering the first trainer aircraft to the air force.”