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. Actually, being painted black is probably one of the more visible colors (OK, not technically a color) that can be used to paint an aircraft – for daylight operations. The black scheme for the T-38s is probably more for unit esprit de corpe than anything else…

    • CharleyA – against the sky I agree. I was made aware of the challenge as it relates to an F-22 pilot looking trying to spot the Talon over the ocean – then it is tough. But then again, they should never get within visual range, and to your point – esprit de corps may have as much to do with it as anything.

  2. Long time been a fan of the T38 & F5 family of planes. I dont think they have been beaten on readiness, cost per hour and performance per $$$. Shame there are no F20s to teach some ACM ;)

  3. This is a nice story, but it is to bad the data isn’t true. The 1st FW (Fighter Wing) is the home the 27th and 94th Fighter Squadrons (F22 only). The T-38’s are there own seperate entity and they do not wear the colors of either squadron. The Raptor does not fly a two hour sortie when playing Grab Ass with the T-38’s. Average sortie duration for a Raptor is 1.3hrs. Public Affairs Office’s push prescribed data to the Media that is not 100% factual and the truth is strectched to make the public believe there tax dollars are going to good use. Trust me I know, I work with these guys everyday.
    I am sure we have all heard of the TV series Undercover Boss, what the Military needs is undercover General to see how terribly mis-managed the Militaries actually are. I am retired Mil and witness over and over.

  4. eaadams, those are mig-28’s if you take “Top Gun” literally. In the real world, they are T-38’s.

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