The Buzz

The One Enemy Every Fighter Pilot Faces (And Won't Ever Defeat)

Fuel states are the enemy of every fighter pilot—there is just never enough gas. Weather during my flight during Atlantic Trident 17 was, frankly, awful. There were some doubts that we would even fly that day—but we did. Once we got to the range and were shot down—as you saw in the previous clip—we were ordered to return to base.

Normally, the T-38A Talons at Langley Air Force base “regenerate” or come back to life several times during a flight. However, due to the weather, we had to maintain a much higher than usual amount of reserve fuel in case we had to divert. Thus, after “dying” only once, we headed back to base.

But this is one of the T-38A’s major limitations. It does not have aerial refueling capability, it lacks a radar and does not have the power, G-load capability or high angle of attack capability needed in a modern advanced trainer or an aggressor. If the Air Force procured enough T-X aircraft—particularly a version with a radar such as the lightweight active electronically scanned array Elta EL/M-2052—the service could replace the aggressor Talons with those jets.

The T-X—either Lockheed T-50A or Boeing’s entrant—could easily mount such a radar. Moreover, both aircraft have the option to be equipped with aerial refueling capability and offer power and maneuverability comparable to a fighter. With President Donald Trump’s military build-up, the service should consider expanding the T-X buy to replace the T-38As serving in ancillary roles such as the aggressors.

Dave Majumdar is the defense editor for The National Interest. You can follow him on Twitter: @davemajumdar.