Friday, May 27, 2022

Have a 'Top Gun' Weekend | Friends of NASA

Have a 'Top Gun' Weekend | Friends of NASA

A pair of NASA's Northrop Grumman T-38 Talons fly in formation over Galveston Beach in Texas, showing some of the aerobatic abilities of the T-38—a two-seat, twinjet supersonic jet trainer.

Years before NASA's space shuttle would glide home to a safe touchdown on runways in California and Florida, NASA astronauts pitched the noses of T-38 jet trainers toward the same runways to find out what it would look like to land a spacecraft in such a way.

The T-38 remains a fixture for astronaut training more than 40 years later because the sleek, white jets make pilots and mission specialists think quickly in changing situations, mental experiences the astronauts say are critical to practicing for the rigors of spaceflight.

"It's actually our most important training that we do as astronauts," said NASA astronaut Terry Virts, who flew as the pilot of STS-130 aboard shuttle Endeavour. "It’s the one place where we're not in a simulator. It's real flying and if you make a mistake, you can get hurt or break something or run out of gas. There are a lot of things that happen real-world in a T-38 that don't happen in the simulator."

"You're in a different world, a dynamic world, it doesn't matter whether it's a shuttle or a T-38," said Story Musgrave, a six-time shuttle flyer who posted thousands of hours in the T-38 and instructed others how to fly it, too. "It's understanding the rules, how to live within the rules."

Musgrave describes the T-38 as "a classic, timeless beauty."

Powered by two afterburning General Electric J85 engines, a T-38 can fly supersonic up to Mach 1.6 and soar above 40,000 feet, about 10,000 feet higher than airliners typically cruise. The plane can wrench its pilots through more than seven Gs, or seven times the force of gravity. That's enough to make simply lifting hands a feat of strength and breathing a labored chore. It'll make one's neck feel like it is balancing a cinder block. It's also more than enough to make the average person black out.

"The T-38 is a great aircraft for what we need at NASA because it's fast, it's high-performance and it's very simple," Virts said. "It's safe and it's known. So compared to other airplanes, it's definitely one of the best."

T-38 Talon Facts

Power Plant: Two General Electric J85-GE-5 turbojet engines with afterburners
Thrust: 2,050 pounds dry thrust; 2,900 with afterburners
Length: 46 feet, 4 inches (14 meters)
Height: 12 feet, 10 inches (3.8 meters)
Wingspan: 25 feet, 3 inches (7.6 meters)
Ceiling: Above 55,000 feet (16,764 meters)
Range: 1,093 miles
Crew: Two
Source: United States Air Force

Caption Credit: Steven Siceloff, NASA's Kennedy Space Center (KSC)
Image Credit: Story Musgrave
Release Date: April 20, 2011

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