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Air Force puts newest training jet through extreme temperature tests

The T-7A Red Hawk is meant to replace the decades-old T-38 jet.
Nicholas Slayton Avatar
A T-7A Red Hawk sits in a frozen McKinley Climatic Lab chamber Jan. 22, 2024 at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. The Air Force’s newest training aircraft experienced temperature extremes from 110 to minus 25 degrees Fahrenheit as well as heavy humidity during the month of testing. The tests evaluate how the aircraft, its instrumentation and electronics fared under the extreme conditions it will face in the operational Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Samuel King Jr.)

The U.S. Air Force is one step closer to adopting its new training jet for pilots. At the end of February, Air Force teams at the McKinley Climatic Lab at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, completed a month of extreme temperature tests on the new T-7A Red Hawk. The tests, which ranged from freezing conditions to high heat and humidity, were meant to measure how the air frame could handle real-world climate conditions. 

The T-7A is currently undergoing a range of tests as the Air Force works to adopt it as its new trainer aircraft. For years, Air Force pilots trained on the T-38. In fact, they trained on it for decades; the T-38 was introduced into service in the early 1960s and it has been the standard instructional jet for Air Force pilots since. The Air Force began looking for a replacement in the early 2000s, with the T-7A designed as something pilots could train on to prepare for flying fifth-generation fighter jets. 

The McKinley Climatic Lab is a large, multi-chamber installation meant to simulate various environments, from Arctic cold conditions to dry desert air. Those were some of the scenarios the T-7A was put through. One jet was situated in the 55,000-square-foot space and subjected to extremes in heat, ranging from 110 degrees Fahrenheit to negative 25 degrees. It was also put through humidity tests as well, all while technicians evaluated how the software and engine worked in those conditions. 

“We need to know the T-7A can operate in the environmental conditions it will encounter at pilot training bases around the country,” Dr. Troy Hoeger, the Chief Development Tester for the T-7A at the Air Force Lifecycle Management Center, said in a statement from Air Force Material Command.

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The T-7A, named the Red Hawk to honor both the Tuskegee Airmen (also known as the “Red Tails”) and the P-40 Warhawk plane, is meant to prepare Air Force pilots for operating F-22 and F-35 planes. The jet fits two, a pilot and an instructor.

With the month of tests done, the plane is going back to Boeing for an additional assessment post climate exposure. 

Boeing delivered the first T-7 Red Hawks to the Air Force last fall. Airmen started flight tests with it at the end of the year at Columbus Air Force Base before the climate tests at Eglin AFB. Defense News reported that although originally meant to be operational capable by 2024, delays and parts issues have pushed back the schedule on widespread adoption for training. The Air Force intends to buy 351 T-7As as well as simulators and other related equipment.

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