The T-7A Red Hawk Trainer’s IOC delay stems from postponement of the Milestone C low-rate production decision, resulting from issues discovered in testing related to the ejection seat and more.
According to US Air Force (USAF) acquisition executive Andrew Hunter, the T-7A Red Hawk advanced jet trainer won’t achieve initial operational capability (IOC) until early 2027.
The trainer IOC slipped from its original goal of 2024 and a more recent timeline of 2026.
The delay stems from postponement of the Milestone C low-rate production decision, resulting from issues discovered in testing related to the ejection seat and more.
In an Apr. 21, 2023 email transmitted through an Air Force spokesperson, Hunter told Air & Space Forces Magazine that “due to issues discovered in the early development and test phase of the program, the Air Force is delaying its Milestone C decision to initiate the buy of T-7A production aircraft. By extension, this will shift the T-7A program’s initial operational capability (IOC) into the spring of 2027. We are pursuing risk reduction activities to mitigate some of these schedule challenges.”
Hunter said that to provide a path to resolving the ejection seat problems, the USAF and Boeing team completed a sled test of the ejection seat in February and are set to conduct a taxi test “within the next several weeks.”
The escape system ran into trouble when testing showed that for persons at the low end of the height/weight range, ejection from the T-7 posed a risk of serious injury. Industry sources have said, however, that the manikins used to test ejection forces may have been improperly instrumented.
The aircraft was built and tested using advanced manufacturing, agile software development and digital engineering technology significantly reducing the time from design to first flight.
“As a result, we have identified and mitigated issues earlier in the development phase, prior to formal flight testing” and before a production decision, Hunter said in the email. “This significantly reduces concurrency on the program and avoids more costly delays from discovery later in development, after a production decision.”
As previously explained several issues, such as supplier-side critical parts shortages, initial design delays, and the need for more testing after the “discovery of aircraft wing rock,” (which means the T-7 can be unstable in the roll axis when flying at high angles of attack) already plagued the Red Hawk.
These problems are inhibiting the T-7A’s progress toward production. According to Air Force Magazine low-rate initial production won’t get the green light until February 2026, but it could not at that time estimate what effect the delay would have on IOC.
The first production aircraft now will not be delivered until December 2025.
The slip in the T-7A’s IOC date will now almost surely require the USAF to further extend the service of some of its 60-plus-year-old T-38 advanced jet trainers, which continue to receive structural modifications and cockpit improvements.
Designed using a digital thread, the T-7A aligns with the US Air Force’s Digital Century Series strategy by enabling the integration of new concepts and capabilities faster and more affordably through virtual testing. Then-Air Force Secretary Barbara M. Barrett announced in September 2020 that Boeing’s Red Hawk trainer jet would be the first plane to earn an “e” designation, as the eT-7A, signifying it was designed and tested using digital engineering. The advanced trainer will provide future fighter and bomber pilots with fundamental and tactical training for 5th generation aircraft.
In September 2018, the USAF awarded Boeing a $9.2 billion contract to supply 351 advanced trainer aircraft (with options to buy as many as 475) and 46 associated ground-based training simulators. Saab is teamed with Boeing on the trainer and provides the aft fuselage of the jet.
The T-7 was named Red Hawk to honor the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen, paying tribute to the legends of the past and the heroes of the future.
Photo credit: Boeing