RANDOLPH AIR FORCE BASE, Texas –
The T-6A Texan II that touched down last week at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla., fresh from the Hawker Beechcraft Corp. factory in Wichita, Kan., marked the end of a long production run, but it didn't signal the end of an era.
Air Force officials hope the service's primary trainer will serve the mission well for years to come.
"This extraordinarily successful joint acquisition program rolled out the first aircraft for undergraduate flying training for the Air Force 10 years ago this month and since then has produced 452 Texan IIs at a cost of $1.8 billion," said Col. Christopher Richardson, 12th Flying Training Wing vice commander. "Every pilot and, soon, every combat systems officer in the Air Force will experience primary flying training in this platform."
Capts. Matt Wilcoxen and Nick Woodrow piloted the last Air Force production T-6A from the Hawker Beechcraft factory to the 479th Flying Training Group's home at NAS Pensacola, where combat systems officer training is under way following its relocation from Randolph. The final CSO class at Randolph graduates this fall.
The CSO program replaces all three of the Air Force's previous navigator, weapon systems officer and electronic warfare officer training programs. All graduates will be able to perform duties in the F-15E, B-1B, B-52, E-3, E-8, KC-135, U-28 and every variant of the RC-135 and C-130.
For CSO training, the T-6A serves as a trainer for basic flying and navigation skill development, but its primary function in the Air Force is for undergraduate pilot training. The first operational T-6A arrived at Randolph in May 2000 and it is now used here for pilot instructor training by the 559th FTS, which has a fleet of 38.
"It's proven to be extremely reliable from a maintenance standpoint," said Lt. Col. Kevin Heyburn, 559th FTS commander. "It's very fuel-efficient, its avionics are great and it's comfortable to fly."
Because it's a single-engine aircraft, the T-6A brings additional challenges to the PIT mission.
"It's another way to make sure we get the right people," Colonel Heyburn said.
The T-6A, which replaced the aging T-37, is used at other bases throughout the Air Education and Training Command, including Columbus, Laughlin, Vance and Sheppard, he said.
It features stepped-tandem seating in a single cockpit that places one crew member in front of the other, with the student and instructor positions being interchangeable. A Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-68 turboprop engine that powers the aircraft delivers 1,100 horsepower and a top speed of 316 knots.