T-43 retires after 37 years of service
The last combat systems officer training aircraft was retired from service in a ceremony here Sept. 17.
The T-43, also known as the `Gator,` is a version of the Boeing 737, and has served as a training platform for navigators, now known as combat systems officers, since 1973.
``We call it the flying classroom,`` said Lt. Col. Pete Deitschel, the commander of the 562nd Flying Training Squadron, one of two T-43 training squadrons at Randolph Air Force Base. ``It`s designed for undergraduate navigator training. We are using the term combat systems officer now, just because of what our students do in the operation world. It`s not necessarily navigating from point A to point B anymore. It`s incorporating all the systems on an aircraft.``
Originally based at Mather AFB, Calif., the T-43 has been in service at Randolph AFB since 1992.
``The T-43 has been a workhorse of navigation,`` Colonel Deitschel said. ``We have put more than 20 thousand aviators through the training. Along with that, our sister services have benefitted from this aircraft. Just two years ago, we had Navy students come through our training program. Until 2004, the Marines also put their navigators through our training program. We`ve also (had) 37 ... different countries that put students through our training.``
Col. Richard Murphy, the commander of the 12th Flying Training Wing, said the T-43 has been a safe and reliable aircraft throughout its 37-year history.
``The T-43 has flown five hundred thousand training hours (and) 100 thousand training sorties, all mishap free,`` he said. ``But now it`s time to bid farewell, as we transfer our training down to (Naval Air Station) Pensacola, Fla., where our CSO students will fly T-6 (Texan IIs), T-1 (Jayhawks) and a modified electronic warfare simulator.``
With advances in technology and the ever-changing needs of the Air Force, Colonel Deitschel said the T-43`s retirement is a step forward for the Air Force.
``We`re updating systems,`` he said. ``This aircraft was designed to do celestial navigation, as the primary training platform for that, where we would teach students how to navigate using the sun, the stars and the moon. We don`t do that anymore. With the onset of the newer systems in the Air Force, (from) global positioning satellite systems to more advanced radar systems, we`ve gone away from that type of navigation.``
Additionally, as CSO training transitions away from the T-43, Colonel Deitschel said the nature of the training will change as well.
Instead of having 12 CSO students training aboard the aircraft at one time, as was the case with the T-43, only one student will be aboard the T-6 or the T-1 at any given time.
``It was more beneficial to the Air Force to switch to two smaller aircraft, where we can put more students in the air, doing all the navigation,`` he said. ``When you have 12 students on board an aircraft, you can only have one that`s actually navigating the aircraft. When we go to a smaller aircraft, that one navigator, or combat systems officer, is doing the navigation by (him or herself).``
In addition to accolades for the aircraft itself, officials praised the people who have served aboard the T-43 throughout its tenure.
``The T-43 instructors have pushed their students to the limit for 37 years, and in the process, provided them with the tools of the trade,`` said Col. Andrew Croft, the commander of the 12th Operations Group. ``Students learned radar and ground-based navigation techniques, along with inertial navigation systems, allowing them to precisely find their way in the worst of weather.
``It`s been an honor to have this aircraft serve in our group,`` Colonel Croft said. ``All the men and women who flew aboard the T-43 are to be commended for their service, and for the (T-43), this is `mission accomplished.```
The T-43 retirement ceremony concluded with a final composite flyby of Randolph AFB aircraft including the T-43.
The aircraft will now take its place in aviation history, and a T-43 will be placed on static display at Randolph AFB.