RANDOLPH AIR FORCE BASE, Texas –
An aircraft that has helped train budding navigators and electronic warfare officers at Randolph for nearly 20 years will soon be grounded forever, but not before the "flying classroom" completes two important missions.
Students in Class 10-15, Randolph's final combat systems officer graduating class, are taking part in their last mission in the T-43, the modified Boeing 737 used for navigator training, this weekend.
Next month the base community will celebrate the retirement of theT-43 with a host of activities, including a golf tournament and dining-in Sept. 16 and a composite flyby Sept. 17.
"The T-43 was specially designed to teach celestial navigation," said Lt. Col. Peter Deitschel, 562nd Flying Training Squadron commander. "It's done a fantastic job, but we needed something better because students have to learn to manage multiple weapon systems and conduct missions with constant change."
Class 10-15's final T-43 mission, which began Thursday, took them to Naval Air Station North Island, Calif. A combined mission of navigation and electronic warfare students, Lt. Col. Robert Orris, 563rd Flying Training Squadron commander, called it "an opportunity to put their learning to use in a more realistic environment."
"This one's a bit different," said Maj. Jeffrey Welborn, 562nd FTS director of operations. "This time we're combining both squadrons in a final event. They will be learning from each other."
Students planned the mission and gave a briefing Wednesday. They listened as instructors corrected mistakes and offered their insights Thursday, the day students began to execute the mission.
"We don't tell them what route to fly," Colonel Orris said. "They do all the planning - from how much fuel is on board to where they will stay."
Colonel Deitschel called the mission, which ends Monday, the "culmination of all the skills they've learned in nine months of training here."
By now the students are "well-versed in mission planning," Major Welborn said.
"It's amazing to see that evolution from its start to this point," he said. "It's in large part due to the dedication of instructors in each squadron. It's a special time for us because we see how they've evolved and what they can do."
Paraphrasing Col. Jacqueline Van Ovost, former 12th Flying Training Wing commander, Colonel Deitschel said instructors "take spectators and make them aviators" in the time they study here.
"They grow up while they're here," he said.
The T-43 retirement observance, which will begin Sept. 16 with a golf tournament at 9 a.m. and a social hour for dining-in and spouses' dinner participants at 5:19 p.m., will feature the aircraft's final flight, part of a composite flyby, at 11:30 a.m. Sept. 17.
"The composite flyby with the T-43 in the lead will commemorate 37 years of aviation history," Colonel Deitschel said.
The base community is welcome to attend the event, he said. Stands will be set up in front of the operations building.
A picnic lunch is planned at 12:30 p.m. in the area between the 562nd and 563rd FTS buildings.
A viewing of the last operational T-43 is scheduled later in the day.
"It will be the last chance to view it," Colonel Deitschel said.