Testing at AEDC helps extend life of T-38 Talon


The T-38 Talon has undergone a structural modification program, which is expected to extend the life of the aircraft to 2029. Throughout the years, testing has taken place at Arnold Engineering Development Complex (AEDC) in support of upgrades to the T-38, a twin-engine, high-altitude, supersonic jet trainer that has been in Air Force service since 1961.

In the late 2000s, collaborative support was provided by technical experts at the 412th Test Wing at Edwards Air Force Base, California, and AEDC to quantify performance improvements to the T-38 and address some problems that cropped up in the field, according to Dr Donald Malloy, AEDC lead aerodynamics analysis engineer. At the time of the testing, Malloy was the Aerospace Testing Alliance (ATA) technical lead on the test program that included the flight testing at Edwards AFB.

“The 412th Test Wing and AEDC team used historical reports from AEDC and Edwards along with state-of-the-art modeling and simulation and test and evaluation capabilities to support test and evaluation efforts at Edwards Flight Test Center,” Malloy said. “Results from flight testing were also used by AEDC analysts to support ground testing of the modernized T-38 turbojet engine at General Electric’s engine test facility. In order to support a very aggressive flight test schedule, AEDC also prototyped some of the hardware that was installed on the flight test aircraft.”

Dr Malloy described the overall result of the AEDC-Edwards collaboration:

“The 412th Test Wing and AEDC provided the test data and knowledge the program office needed to select the final configuration to go forward with for the remaining life of the weapons system. AEDC continues to support the Talon through the Air Force Smart Operations for the 21st Century program, AFSO21. Our recent support to the AFSO21 team that improved a critical engine control component and our new way of thinking are as important as our support for the recent modernization program.”

Testing on the T-38 Talon has been taking place at AEDC since the beginning of its development. In 1958, prior to its first flight, the T-38 Talon underwent aerodynamic tests, including drag studies in the 16-foot transonic wind tunnel (16T) at AEDC. Then in the 1960s, the propulsion system for the Talon, a J85 turbojet engine manufactured by General Electric, was also tested at the Complex to verify its performance and operability. By the late 1970s, a comprehensive Aeropropulsion Laboratory program provided more knowledge of jet engine emissions on the environment and a J85 engine was tested using a mobile pollution detector developed by AEDC engineers.

September 11, 2015

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