Rare insight into F-22 Raptor vs T-38 Talon aerial combat training at Langley

This is how F-22 fighter pilots train to improve their air-to-air skills.

The venerable T-38 Talon which first flew in 1959 (production ceased in 1972) has found new life as an adversary aircraft used to hone the skills of Raptor pilots. The aircraft, pulled from storage at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base and refurbished with current systems (including jamming pods such as the AN/ALQ-188) have been deployed in support squadrons at Holloman AFB, Tyndall AFB and Langley AFB (Joint Base Langley–Eustis).

The T-38s provide an excellent simulation of a number of non-stealthy adversaries that Raptors could come into contact with from countries around the globe. Beyond their value as adversaries, the Talon’s cost per flight hour is reported as $18,000 less than the Raptor and they preserve precious flight hours on the F-22s.

Small, relatively fast, and painted black the Talons are difficult to put eyes on, though primary training would imply detection and “shoot down” BVR (Beyond Visual Range).

The T-38s are typically flown by Raptor pilots who are the most qualified to challenge the Raptor, and exploit any and all perceived air-to-air vulnerabilities. Imagine a widely dispersed flight of T-38s moving fast at 50 ft off the water attempting to penetrate an area under Raptor CAP (Combat Air Patrol). The final result most certainly makes Raptor pilots extremely familiar and confident in their aircraft and its capabilities as they push both sides of an engagement thoroughly.

T-38 Langley

A typical day at Langley features the launching of groups of Raptors (1st Fighter Wing) and Talon adversaries (27th Fighter Squadron) morning and afternoon on two hour sorties for Tactical Intercepts and Offensive/Defensive Counter-Air training.

The training realized in these daily encounters ensure mission ready, mission capable pilots are available for deployment to any number of global hotspots. Perhaps most significantly this training provides an unparalleled level of confidence for Raptor pilots, for it is one thing to believe you are invisible, and another to know you are. It is this kind of confidence that leads to engagements like that of the F-22 Raptors sliding up undetected and unexpected on IRIAF (Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force) F-4 Phantom jets that were attempting to intercept a U.S. MQ-1 drone flying in international airspace off Iran.

Leaving no doubt, Raptors with Talons are more dangerous than Raptors alone.

Special thanks to the PAO of Joint Base Langley–Eustis.

Todd Miller lives in MD, US where he is an Executive at a Sustainable Cement Technology Company in the USA. When not working, Todd is an avid photographer of military aircraft and content contributor.



  1. Just roll the T-38 to troll the F-22.

    I read somewhere that the T-38 has one of the largest roll rates in any aircraft past and present (around 720 degrees per second).

    Imagine that! 2 rolls per second! Dayum.

  2. I read the title…and I expected the article to tell us how they train..but the article only says that raptor pilots fly against low level T-38s during morning or afternoon… and that’s all??

    • That was only meant as one example (particularly given the Talons size and color making it hard to pick up “down there.”) While they won’t share all the tactics, I am certain they try every altitude, 6 vs 1, and on and on, as well as good “old fashion” dogfights – after all they are at it hours each day. I have watched them over the range at Red Flag and listened to the radio calls – 2 F-22’s had no issue clearing out a wide corridor through “red air” (6-8 F-15’s and F-16’s who were expecting them) and leaving a path for a B-2 that followed. The aircraft has its place to defeat any challengers (especially when tied in with data links from E-3’s etc. ) provided there is an adequate number of them, and the pilots hands are not tied by rules of engagement. The USAF has positioned rapid deployment units of 4 F-22’s for response to global issues. That is a pretty good indication of a high level of confidence in what 4 aircraft can accomplish. Of course no commentary added to discuss the cost factor (how many Gen 4 fighters can you get for the same cost as the F-22’s). It will be interesting to see how the Chinese and Russian aircraft perform (though we the public will never know true capability). It is relevant to note, the F-22’s are mission ready and being deployed globally right now.

  3. My bad feelings about this F-35 continue to grow. The USAF needs a worthy adversary for their pricey fifth-generation fighter and where do they find it? In a plane that first flew in 1959. I’m tempted to remark that the choice was probably based on the lack of fabric-covered biplanes in their inventory.

    And I won’t go into the mindset that regards slipping up on 1960s-era Iranian F-4s without being spotted as a major accomplishment. Do we really want to get into a situation where the only countries we can fight are those who’ve not upgraded their fighter inventory since the late 1970s? That seems to be the case.

    The USAF must fly a complex array of missions from combat support to deep interdiction and air patrols/dog fighting. The idea that one plane could do all that is absurd. We’d be far better off improving our existing inventory of aircraft like A-10s.

    And why is it that the Swedes, with what must be an extremely limited budget, can produce top-notch fighters while we spend huge sums producing flying lemons. The F-22 was such a failure, production has already ended. It’s easy to suspect that this media hyping will come to naught and foreign countries will be canceling their orders for F-35s.

    • The F-22 does train against (with) “current” aircraft like the Typhoon, Rafale and Gripen. But frankly, the T-38 well represents what many countries still fly (non-stealthy aircraft). I suspect (but may be wrong) The T-38 has a much smaller radar signature than many potential global adversaries, as well as good speed & low fuel burn. The real test of the F-22 is BVR – we know some Gen 4 fighters can defeat it in a dogfight (though the ROE are seldom published for those). I think if you are flying an F-22 and get into a dogfight, you’re already where you are not supposed to be.

      I’m not feeling great about the F-35 either, most things published indicate it is inferior as a flight platform, and yet the strategy is all about sensor fusion. Maybe as part of a combined force it all works brilliantly – but as a pure flying machine mmmm. I am very hopeful that I am wrong. Times are changing, and as an aviation nut, it’s kind of dissappointing. We used to have so many different aircraft to enjoy, now we are down to a handful.

      • Early 1v1 post merge engagements involved experienced F-15 drivers against inexperienced F-22 aircrews who frequently started using the aircraft’s thrust vectoring/post stall maneuverability capability thinking the F-15 would overshoot them. Instead, the F-15 would go vertical, reverse and drill them. Obviously, those tactics were rapidly changed. There have been some controversial claims by some NATO allies, the details of which are unclear.

    • How in the world do you read this article and come to the conclusion that the T-38 is a “worthy adversary” for the raptor? They’re entirely different classes of aircraft, separated by more than 50 years, with a performance gap the size of the grand canyon. This article claims nothing more than the fact that the T-38 is a low cost training tool.

  4. I really hope these F-22’s are as good as we think they are. Even if they are we still don’t have nearly enough of them.

    • Yeah they should have built 500 or more. Replace the F15 1:1.

      Then build more A10’s with the F35 helmet. That would be lethal. Talk about battle field SA. Rolling around with that gun, all that protection and a “see through” plane ?!

      Wow !

  5. Talons flying low and fast over water could also simulate inbound cruise missiles. The T-38 has always been one of the best looking jets, IMO.

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