T-7A Red Hawk Update


© Boeing photo

The U.S. Air Force will be welcoming their new generation of jet trainers to squadron use in 2023. Replacing the venerable Northrop T-38 will be the Boeing Defense, Space and Security/Saab Group’s T-7A Red Hawk, an all-new design. The single engine, twin tailed design was the winner of the Air Force’s T-X competition which began in 2003 for the Air Education and Training Command. The goal of the programs is to replace a fifty-plus year old aircraft and systems with modern equipment with opportunities to train young aviators with the cutting edge capabilities found on today’s fighter and bomber aircraft.

Initial discussions about replacing the supersonic T-38 advanced jet trainer commenced around 2003, with a planned initial operational capability of 2017. The program was officially called the “T-X” program (Trainer – X), but with subsequent budget issues, funding for T-X was left out of the Air Force’s budget for a few years. The Program itself called for some 351aircraft and associated training tools for a complete system, with capabilities to train pilots to operate 5th Generation (and earlier) aircraft such as F-22A Raptor fighters and advanced bombers like the B-2 and future B-21.

Not only would (today’s) standard flying qualities be important, but the ability to fly advanced maneuvers, such as high angles of attack, was needed. Hands on Throttle and Stick (HOTAS) controls, touch screens displays, and Heads Up Display (HUD) capabilities were required. Missions such as armament training with smart weapons and advanced radar were envisioned too. Plus, air refueling was part of the package, although a simulated air refueling capability was ultimately required.

Besides the Boeing /Saab team, interest was shown by other teams that including the Leonardo S.P.A. T-100, an M-346 trainer adaptation. Korean Aerospace Industries teamed up with Lockheed Martin to offer the T-50 Golden Eagle. Northrop Grumman teamed up with L-3 Communications and Rolls Royce Holdings with a Hawk trainer upgrade. Other teams included those from Sierra Nevada/Turkish Aerospace Industries, the Stavatti Javlin program, and the Textron AirLand Scorpion team.

For the Boeing/Saab team, the first flights of these T-X prototypes occurred on December 20, 2016 and April 24, 2017. On March 28, 2017, the Boeing T-X proposal was submitted. On April 27, 2017, both T-X prototypes flew together for the first time. On May 15, 2017, Boeing announced that their T-X jets would be manufactured in St. Louis MO; some Saab-produced equipment would be included in the jets too.

© USAF Graphic

On September 27, 2018,USAF Graphic the Air Force announced that the Boeing/Saab team won the T-X Pilot Training Program competition. By August 6, 2019, one hundred flights in the test and development programs had been performed. On September 16, 2019, the Air Force officially announced that the winning design would be known as the T-7A Red Hawk, in commemoration of the Red Tail Squadron of Tuskegee Airmen fame.

The initial T-7As will be operating from Joint Base San Antonio – Randolph in Texas, followed by training units at Columbus AFB in Mississippi, Vance AFB in Oklahoma, Laughlin AFB in Texas and Sheppard AFB in Texas (not necessarily in this order). As of today, the first T-7As and associated equipment should reach JB San Antonio – Randolph in 2023, with an Initial Operational Capability (IOC) in 2024.

Although an official number of aircraft and Ground Based Training Systems is 351 airframes and 46 training systems, the signed contract included the possibility of up to 475 aircraft and 120 ground based training systems.

© Boeing Photo

The T-7A is powered by a single General Electric F404-GE-103 turbofan, with afterburner. It seats a crew of two in tandem, the rear seat is elevated. Both crew will be seated in Collins ACES 5 ejection seats. Besides being the Air Force’s advanced trainer, discussions about operations as an aggressor trainer aircraft and a light attack jet have been heard, and even rumblings about the export of this aircraft and/or training system have been rumored.

So, in the next few years, once the Red Hawk has begun production, examples should be out to bases and visible at larger trade and air shows. Keep your eyes peeled for an unfamiliar jet with twin tails, it could be the Air Force’s newest advanced trainer, the Red Hawk.

“The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement.”

“The appearance of Boeing’s visual information here does not imply or constitute Boeing endorsement.”


Ken Kula

Assignment and Content Editor, writer and photographer A New Englander all of my life, I've lived in New Hampshire since 1981. My passion for all things aviation began at a very early age, and I coupled this with my interest of photography during college in the late 1970s. I spent 32 years in the air traffic control industry, and concurrently, enjoyed my aviation photography and writing adventures, which continue today. I've been quite fortunate to have been mentored by some generous and gifted individuals. I enjoy contributing to this great site, and working with some very knowledgeable and equally passionate aviation followers.

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