Image copyright F/A-18A
A cargo aircraft will begin tracking how many vaccines are being delivered to the last missions of the last World War II-era fleet of tankers.
US Global Strike Command will analyse the performances of 17 tankers now being phased out.
Each carrier air wing uses the T-38 Talon jets, which become part of the TRACON system for tracking the mail.
But in 2018 the 33 existing T-38s are being phased out and replaced by T-50 trainer jets.
The T-X trainer is the US Air Force’s preferred choice for future replacement of all their tankers, although in the absence of an open competition the USAF’s interim plan is still to proceed with the T-X.
One of the planes originally built to fill this role – the T-38 Talon – is being replaced by the T-50A, and not both, as initially planned.
But the original plan to operate four T-Xs from a single TRACON site on the US mainland now is to be split to allow some flyovers along the coasts.
The lead tanker – to be flown by the aircraft carrier, the USS Dwight D Eisenhower – will remain at the central TRACON site, and take lead roles in escorting and refueling, says the command.
But the rest of the aircraft will be dispersed, taking the fight into the air.
“When an aircraft commander has a dedicated fuel tank or wingman to fuel, it can reduce his risk of being beached by the enemy or disrupted by a collision with another aircraft,” says the plan.
Image copyright F/A-18A Image caption The TRACON system allows the two tankers in a carrier air wing to remain separate, to keep incidents like mid-air collisions at bay
Details: Tracking TRACON
The manoeuvre of trailing another aircraft – maintaining aircraft separation and avoiding mid-air collisions – is known as an ‘inspector’ in the RAF.
The Navy’s T-X program is the first example of an active carrier pilot group being fielded with an assigned aircraft.
The transport aircraft are used to transport supplies for the single T-X squad (three tankers and three fighters) and also to escort and refuel the others in the carrier air wing.
In the course of the overall effort, the Navy believes four separate TRACON sites will be needed.
“However, based on current requirements, following this deployment, both T-X and the aerial tanker will be operated at one central TRACON site,” says the plan.
Each T-X jet is the result of a separate programme, each already completely manned and equipped with all the communication, navigation and avionics equipment required to perform the reconnaissance and communication support they will need for the air wing.
A single T-X squadron with such a variety of aircraft is the combination the USAF expects will be most cost-effective and fast.
It is also the USA’s only opportunity to directly develop new warplanes for the air force.
There are signs that the US Navy will have to begin some fundamental aeronautical research for its future warfighters, after a decision in favour of the T-X option.
Among the tasks that the USAF wants to undertake is to improve its tanker arm to meet the needs of the future, who will be self-reliant and able to launch and recover their own aircraft – and attack enemy ground targets.