DAYTON, OH (FOX19) - "Regular pilots will never do what test pilots do to a plane," Mark "Red" Ward confided while at the Dayton Air Show. "It's all about safety for the next guy. We go over every position of the plane- it's engineering versus pilot. We analyze and go forward, using our pilot skills to test the engineers."
Ward is a test pilot for the T-50A, Lockheed Martin's contestant in a bid to win the Air Force contract to produce the newest generation of trainers. In an effort to eliminate training gaps for pilots and provide a seamless fighter training experience, the T-50A proposal is a practical and fairly economical way to replace the aging Northrop T-38 trainer.
While the T-38 has been a great basic trainer for 50 years, it doesn't quite have the performance, and high G capabilities that pilots ideally need to experience before they take control of their new planes, such as the F-35 Lightening II or the F-22 Raptor. After graduating the T-38, simulators would be the next step, though they are expensive and not quite the real thing. The T-38 also doesn't possess the advance flight control or the high speed/low speed capabilities necessary to compliment the next generation of fighters.
Lockheed Martin engineers realized that by pulling an on the shelf aircraft and modifying it to meet the specific needs of a military fighter as opposed to creating a brand new design, they'd be capitalizing by saving money, time, and employing less risk by going with a trusted design. Enter the F-16 Fighting Falcon, a highly maneuverable, multi-role fighter. By pulling the best parts of the F-16, the engineers engage a proven airframe and modified it to meet specific needs, saving cost and production time, and eliminating potentially unnecessary or unsafe risks.
Test pilot Ward shared that the T-50A is easy to fly, and explained that by using the F-16 as a base, they're "clearing the envelope" by starting dead center with a proven aircraft and by brushing the envelop out, everything should be fine. The pilots had tested the minimum and maximum speeds, the projected altitude ceiling, and verified the sound structure while recording data for the engineers so they could keep testing, keep proving, keep analyzing and always go forward.
"By using the F-16, it's a low risk aircraft that's ready to jump into service as soon as the Air Force needs it. With it, we have the development cost risks behind us and we're ready to go" Ward explains. "We're super excited and proud of our team."
Lockheed Martin will go up with fellow competitors Boeing and Leonardo in the bid to win the Air Force contract. They hope to have a winning decision by this December. If the T-50A prevails in the series of proposals, plans are to have them manufactured in Greenville, SC.
The Dayton Air Show was the first public performance of the T-50A.