Randolph reservists ensure health of T-38 fleet

  • Published
  • By Robert Goetz
  • Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph Public Affairs
Air Force reservists assigned to Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph play a vital role in ensuring the aging T-38 Talon - Air Education and Training Command's primary jet trainer - remains mission-ready.

The 415th Flight Test Flight, part of the 413th Flight Test Group Air Force Reserve unit at Robins Air Force Base, Ga., performs functional check flights, making sure the aircraft are ready to fly after undergoing modifications and repairs.

Lt. Col. Ripley Woodard, 415th FLTF commander and test pilot, said the flight is "a reserve unit that supports the active-duty mission." It's an important support role, given the T-38's age and its continued use for the foreseeable future.

"We have to keep the fleet healthy," he said. "Some of our T-38s have been in service since the 1960s."

The 415th FLTF is a small unit, consisting of two full-time test pilots, a command support staff NCO in charge and a cadre of other senior NCOs who specialize in aviation resource management and aircrew flight equipment. But the flight will expand from eight personnel to 13 sometime in fiscal 2013, Woodard said.

"We will be hiring more pilots because our workload is about to greatly increase. Two major overhauls to T-38s are coming."

The overhauls will be performed at Randolph, where the 571st Aircraft Maintenance Squadron Operating Location A handles depot maintenance of all T-38s in the Air Force, as well as some Navy T-38s.

The 571st AMXS, a unit of the 309th Maintenance Wing at Hill AFB, Utah, will soon begin the process to replace magnesium flight control rods with aluminum rods for more than 450 aircraft in AETC and Air Combat Command. It will also launch Pacer Classic III, an extensive six-month T-38 modification program that will produce more than 22 aircraft per year.

Woodard, a former T-37 instructor pilot at Randolph, said the 415th FLTF is responsible for the test flights of most T-38s modified or repaired by the 571st AMXS. Using a checklist called a Dash-6, test pilots inspect the aircraft on the ground and in the air.

"Every plane - except for those with minor modifications - requires a functional check flight before it's delivered to the field," he said. "Each FCF lasts about an hour; we shut down the engine and test all the controls. We take an un-airworthy aircraft and certify it for flight."

Woodard said the flight enjoys a close relationship with 571st AMXS personnel.

"You bet your life on what they're doing," he said.

FCFs aren't the only duty of 415th FLTF pilots, Woodard said. They also travel to bases throughout the United States, picking up aircraft that will be modified or repaired and returning them once they have been certified for flight.

Among their other responsibilities are certifying aircraft that have been repaired or rebuilt by the 571st AMXS after involvement in a crash.

"We do crash recovery," Woodard said. "In the last three years, we've certified four T-38s that were crashed."

The 415th FLTF traces its roots back to World War II, when the 25th Reconnaissance Squadron was equipped with Consolidated B-24 Liberators and designated the 415th Bombardment Squadron. The unit was inactivated after the war and wasn't activated again until 1958, but only for four years. Thirty years later, the unit was redesignated the 415th Flight Test Squadron and activated at Edwards AFB, Calif., for two years. The unit was again inactivated until October 2001, when it was redesignated the 415th FLTF for its current mission at Randolph.

Master Sgt. Jason Fisch, 415th FLTF aircrew flight equipment NCO in charge, called the flight a "very small and close-knit unit."

"We are very much like a family," he said.

Fisch, the newest member of the flight, said his responsibilities include inspecting all of the appropriate flight gear used by the aircrew in performance of their duties.

"I love my job and the fact that I'm the last person they see stepping out the door and the first they see stepping back into the shop, and knowing that because I did my job, they could do their job," he said.