Since the famous day of December 17, 1903 when the Wright brothers launched the first powered airplane into the sky, many forms of aircraft have been used in numerous ways. Eventually, the U.S. Military bought their first airplane just six years after the Wright Brothers made theirs, which began the long history of military aviation. Obviously, planes remain an important factor in American military power today; in fact, at least one type of aircraft is included in the arsenal of the Marines, Air Force, Army, and Navy. These range from the F-35 Lightning fighter jet to the AH-64 Apache helicopter and the V-22 Osprey to the enormous C-5 Galaxy cargo plane. They are all powerful tools that help the U.S. Military fight battles and promote peace around the globe.
However, like all tools, the aircraft require a skilled hand to use them to their full potential. Besides the various simulators and computer-aided training that prepare potential pilots for future missions, there are several basic planes called trainers that prep a pilot for the larger, more powerful planes used in actual combat. These trainers have forgiving characteristics, flight controls for the instructor, and elementary cockpit arrangements which allow the pilot to feel more comfortable in the air and gain confidence in his aviation skill. These trainers are a halfway point between land-based training and combat-worthy aircraft. Because of the their specific missions, each branch of the military has their own individual trainers.
For the Air Force, the current trainer plane is the T-38 Talon. However, this is an aging variant and unfit to prepare pilots for the modern fifth generation fighters—a term for the most advanced planes—such as the newest arrival, the F-35 Lightning, and its sister, the F-22 Raptor. Thus, the Air Force launched the T-X program, an organization for an updated and improved trainer design in which airplane manufacturing companies present designs according to certain requirements that the Air Force listed. The principal requirements for the trainer, besides basic necessities such as flying in formation, navigation, and aircraft control, were sustained G forces, simulator visual acuity and performance, and aircraft sustainment. Below are the designs of the top competitors: on the right is the Boeing’s T-X and on the left is Lockheed’s T-50A.
Although its focus is obviously on land-based missions, the Army surprisingly does own a sizable amount of helicopters. The Bell Textron TH-67 Creek is the lead-in aircraft for the Army’s Apaches, Hueys, and other helicopters. It replaced the original training Bell UH-1 Hueys and is much smaller, but also more sleek, fancy, and modern. Unlike most military aircraft which are built on request by airplane construction companies according to specific characteristics listed by the military, the Army simply bought this model from a selection of previously made helicopters. That is most likely the reason for its comfy features, such as air-conditioning, a luxury that the Army would never include had it been their design. Nevertheless, this may actually be beneficial, since trainees’ grades have improved and their course failure has been halved after the Creek’s introduction to the Army in 1995. After they are finished with this helicopter, the Army is able to sell it on any commercial market since it is not their own design. Another benefit to this model is that the Army saved $27 million annually since they did not have to create a brand new aircraft. The TH-67’s main features include energy attenuating seats, full IMC/VMC instrumentation (weather predicting instruments which pilots use while flying in inclement weather) and heavy-duty skid shoes for touchdown autorotation training.
Since the Navy and Marine branches are similar, they share trainers. Their primary one is the T-45 Goshawk, which was re-entered into service in July 2017 after the pilot’s flight oxygen supply was renovated. The T-45 replaced the TA-4J Skyhawk. As almost 100% of the Navy’s aircraft is launched from aircraft carriers, the Goshawk mainly prepares future pilots for the basics of aircraft carrier aviation such as landing the plane so that it catches the arresting wires of the ship and adjusting to the catapult launching system. In addition, the cockpit and control configuration is similar to that of the F-18 Hornet, the Navy’s current warplane. Other minor trainers include the T-44A Pegasus, helicopter TH-57 Sea Ranger, and the T-6A Texan II turboprop trainer.
Though small, these distinctive red and white aircraft play an important role in US military air power. Making sure that the trainers can adequately prepare novices for the planes and helicopters they may one day fly is critical in ensuring that they are properly handled to their full potential. As in many cases, it is the unseen, smaller things which are as notable as the larger.
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