Former T-38 instructor tells the story of when as a Second Lieutenant did 30 consecutive aileron rolls in the Talon

Former T-38 instructor tells the story of when as a Second Lieutenant did 30 consecutive aileron rolls in the Talon

By Dario Leone
Apr 13 2023
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‘Roll rates obtainable in this aircraft with full aileron deflection are extremely high and could cause the pilot to become disoriented,’ T-38 Talon flight manual.

The US Air Force originally ordered the T-38A Talon in the 1950s as an advanced, supersonic flight trainer. The Talon also served as a fighter lead-in.

Before the Lead-In-Fighter Trainer (LIFT) program began in 1975, new pilots went directly from the T-38s they flew in Undergraduate Pilot Training (UPT) to the advanced fighters of an operational fighter squadron. The LIFT program reduced the training load on new pilots because they could learn fighter basics in a familiar aircraft. Also, since the AT-38B (a T-38 Modified with a weapons pylon and a gunsight. AT-38Bs could carry gun pods, rockets or practice bombs, and trainee pilots learned basic combat maneuvers and air-to-ground weapons delivery in them) was much less expensive to operate than a fighter, the LIFT program reduced costs.

The LIFT program ended in 1993 and was replaced by the Introduction to Fighter Fundamentals (IFF) program. The IFF program provides introductory air-to-air and air-to-ground flight training to new Air Force pilots.

The Talon’s maneuverability also made it useful as the first in a series of aggressor aircraft.

A claim confirmed Ron Wagner, former USAF pilot in the Presidential Wing at Andrews AFB, who says on Quora;

‘I still have a T-38A flight manual from pilot training, which has this on page 6–6:


Roll rates obtainable in this aircraft with full aileron deflection are extremely high and could cause the pilot to become disoriented. Rapid input of both rudder and half (or more) aileron, can cause large load factor excursions during the maneuver.’

Former T-38 instructor Marcus Cade echoes Wagner with this story that appears on Quora;

‘As a bored youngster, I once did 30 consecutive aileron rolls in a -38. I accelerated to about 400 KIAS, pulled the nose up about 30 degrees, unloaded to about 1/4 G, and deflected the stick full left. After about 3 rolls, I just started counting “blue, brown, blue, brown …” after 30 rolls, and about 30 degrees nose low, I recovered to level by pulling toward the blue and tried to fly mostly level until the nystagmus faded. I wasn’t queasy, but I couldn’t see a damned thing for a minute or so. Good thing 2Lts are invincible.

‘I anticipated the difficulty in counting and arrived at this solution. It was a clear day in West Texas … I simply counted “brown, 1, brown, 2, brown 3 …” increasing the count every time “brown” transitioned to “blue”. I’m confident it was precisely 30 rolls.’

Cade concludes;

‘As for the general difficulty in counting rolls, it’s true. These days I’m a competition aerobatic pilot and I can attest to the fact that it’s easy to do a 1 3/4 snap when you meant to do a 1 1/2, etc. Hitting the points at high roll rates is a challenge.’

Retired USAF Lieutenant Colonel remembers his time as a T-38 student pilot

Photo credit: SSGT Jeffrey Allen, USAF / U.S. Air Force

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Dario Leone

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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