BEALE AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. --
Along with the U-2 Dragon Lady and the RQ-4 Global Hawk, the T-38 Talon can be found in the sky above Beale. While the T-38 may not directly provide intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, it is a vital tool U-2 pilots use in order to complete their mission and support the Air Force as a whole.
“The T-38s are a part of the Companion Trainer Program for the U-2 pilots at Beale,” said Lt. Col. Paul Wurster, 1st Reconnaissance Squadron commander. “The U-2 fleet is small so our pilots only get three or four flights per month on average. The T-38 is used to provide instrument and general flight training which keeps our pilots current and proficient.”
Although various personnel provide support to T-38 flying operations, a group of mechanics play an integral role. These civilian contractors work to keep the aircraft ready to fly whenever necessary.
“We get all of the aircraft prepared for the daily flying schedule,” said Sam Holmes, 9th Maintenance Group T-38 aircraft mechanic. “After each flight we recover the aircraft, we refuel them, inspect them, and send them back up.”
There is a quicker turnaround between flights for the T-38 compared to the U-2 due to the lower maintenance requirements and the larger fleet of them on Beale. This allows the pilots a chance to fly a greater number of sorties.
“We fly almost every day and fly upwards of 30 pilots in that time,” said Matt Miller, 9th MXG T-38 aircraft mechanic. “We can fly between 12 and 15 sorties, no problem.”
The aforementioned flying schedule is only possible due to the mechanics' level of expertise. They perform almost all maintenance on the T-38 in house, much of which is maintenance done preemptively.
“The preventative maintenance is to ensure the airworthiness of the aircraft,” said Miller. “A lot of small problems can be stopped from becoming big problems, but things do break. As the issues arise, we work to get the aircraft back in the air as quickly as possible.”
The comprehensive inspections done by the mechanics catch the larger issues early and ensure the safety of the pilots.
“We do both preflight and post-flight inspections and inspections every 25 and 225 flight hours,” said Holmes. “We have an oil sampling program we do every 20 flight hours.”
All the time spent inside a T-38 is essential in keeping a pilot’s skills sharp and in turn keeping the nation safe. The time the mechanics spend working on the aircraft is just as important.
"The mechanics make it possible to fly multiple flights a day,” said Wurster. “Their work keeps our flight operations safe and efficient."