Air Force top guns need top-drawer tech


The Air Force has been flying fifth generation advanced fighter jets for 11 years now, but believe it or not, it’s still training pilots for planes like the F-35 and F-22 with aircraft designed more than a half century ago.


Plans are in the works to build a new advanced fighter jet trainer, and this month, Lockheed Martin flew its candidate for the first time.

It’s called the T-50A.

If Lockheed has its way, the T-50A will replace Northrop’s T-38 Talon, which first flew in 1959 — when Dwight Eisenhower was President and “Twilight Zone” was a top TV show.

The premise is this: If you’re going to put a pilot in a $100 million jet with high-performance flight characteristics and super sophisticated targeting displays and data links, why not train the pilot in something similar?

The T-50A will offer an advanced fifth-generation cockpit and in-flight refueling capability, Lockheed said.

Other designs

But Lockheed has some competition.

Northrop Grumman and a partnership between Boeing Phantom Works and Saab also plan to submit aircraft candidates for the $12 billion Air Force contract.

Their proposals would build the planes from all-new designs, while the T-50A is based on analready existing jet used by South Korea.

Boeing hasn’t revealed much about its design — which reportedly is expected to make its first flight this year. An early artist’s rendering showed a plane with a “long nose and forward cockpit,” according to Flightglobal.

Northrop Grumman’s candidate is also expected to fly this year, Flightglobal reported in December. Saab told Flightglobal the project was going “tremendously well.”