USAF Trainers In My Lifetime…


I’m 63 years old, and have been nuts about airplanes since I was a child. I’ve chased airplanes in picture books, at air shows, and later in life, as a photographer and writer trying to record aviation history. That’s enough about me… but here’s a story about some of the planes I’ve seen over the years. These are most of the U.S. Air Force’s training aircraft that I’ve seen from the 1960s through the 2020s.


The Cessna T-41A Mescalero was a lead-in trainer for pilots who, if successful, would go onto the Cessna T-37 jet trainer. Various models had different propeller and avionics packages. This later version is a Cessna R-172G Skyhawk used by the US Air Force Academy.


Northrop AT-38B Talon was a Lead-In-Fighter Trainer, equipped with a gunsight and several hardpoints for weapons. It was an advanced version of the supersonic T-38A Talon.


The Beech/Raytheon T-1A Jayhawk is a multi-place trainer used for pilots who’ll fly non-single seat fighter aircraft. It replaced the T-39 Sabreliner.


This NT-33A was the last Lockheed T-33 Shooting Star active in the USAF. It was a development of the F-80 fighter, and was the first dedicated jet trainer in the USAF’s inventory.


The Slingsby T-3A Firefly was a short-lived trainer used by the Air Force after the Cessna T-41 was retired. Unfortunately, engine issues led to the retirement of the T-3A fleet after just 2 full years of use.


The North American Rockwell T-39 Sabreliner was a utility trainer used in the late 1950s and 1960s. Later, it was adopted as a pure jet transport.


Operational in the year 2000, the Beech/Raytheon T-6A Texan II was a direct replacement of the Cessna T-37 Tweet – a pure jet trainer born in the 1950s. It is the current primary trainer of the USAF.


The Lockheed T-33A Shooting Star was the Air Force’s first all-jet trainer. It led a long life… one legend (that didn’t happen) said that when the last F-15 Eagle jet fighter was retired in the Boneyard, the fighter pilot would be brought home aboard a T-33! This jet was doing just that, but with the F-4 Phantom (see the nose on the right edge of the photo) above.


Cirrus’s T-53A Kaydet II is the newest pilot screening aircraft in use, adopted after the T-52A (Diamond DA-20) lease agreement was completed in 2012.


The Boeing T-43 was a development of the commercial B-737 aircraft. The T-43 was mainly a navigation trainer, although the TC-43 version was a staff transport too.


The Cessna T-37A/B Tweet was a primary jet trainer that served for 50 years… from 1959 through 2009. Many of the original -A versions were upgraded over their lives, and became -B models.


The Northrop T-38A was the first supersonic-capable jet trainer for the USAF. A prototype first flew in 1959; the type is still in use today as the T-38C with advanced avionics. It will be replaced by the Boeing T-7A Red Hawk.

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 35 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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