Navy Delays Jet Trainer Replacement As T-45 Wing Hits One Million Flight Hours

The U.S. Navy’s Training Air Wing 2 (TAW-2) has racked up one million flight hours, or just over 114 years worth of flying time, on T-45 Goshawk jet trainers since 1991. The milestone comes as the service has pushed back plans to replace the carrier-capable T-45 with a new type that might not be able to land on or take off from its flattops. The hope had previously been that the remaining Goshawks could start heading into retirement before the end of the decade.

The Navy, together with representatives from Boeing, held a ceremony at Naval Air Station (NAS) Kingsville in Texas yesterday to mark TAW-2 hitting the one million flight hour mark. McDonnell Douglas, which was subsequently absorbed into Boeing, developed the T-45 in cooperation with British Aerospace, which evolved into BAE Systems. TAW-2 together with TAW-1 at NAS Meridian in Mississippi fly the bulk of the Navy’s Goshawks.

Navy Capt. Aaron Rybar, head of Training Air Wing 2 (TAW-2) speaks at a ceremony to mark the unit having flown one million flight hours on the T-45. One of TAW-2’s T-45Cs is seen behind him. USN

The T-45A version of the Goshawk, which is derived from the British Hawk jet trainer, first entered Navy service in 1991, as a replacement for both the T-2 Buckeye and the TA-4 Skyhawk. This was followed later in the decade by the C variant, which featured a glass cockpit and improved avionics. A proposed land-based T-45B was never built. Older T-45As were also eventually brought up to the C standard.

T-45Cs, of which the Navy has just over 190 today, have received additional upgrades over the years. This includes swept engine inlets designed to help reduce the chance of the jets experiencing a dangerous compressor stall during dynamic maneuvering. The jets have also been getting new oxygen systems following a surge in reported hypoxia-like physiological episodes among pilots in recent years.

A T-45C with swept inlets assigned to TAW-1. Scott Stephens Scott Stephens

“On May 1st, 1992, the first class of flight instructors from VT-21 [Training Squadron 21] assigned to fly the next generation of Naval Aviators in the new T-45A Goshawk began their training,” Navy Capt. Aaron Rybar, TAW-2’s commander, said at the ceremony at NAS Kingsville, according to a Navy release. “On 26 February, 2024, 30 years and one month after the Navy went full operational capability [with the] T-45 aircraft, Lt. Cmdr. Thomas “Sock” Cruz, from VT-22, operating aircraft 267, BuNo 165067, on a basic fighter maneuver [training] event, crossed over the one-millionth flight hour in the T-45 here at NAS Kingsville Texas.”

“A strong national defense starts with how we project our power. From the United States Navy standpoint, we project power with carrier air wings. And our carrier air wings are trained right here in Kingsville. This is the heart, the heart of the United States Navy. And the number-one battering ram of the United States Navy is a carrier air wing,” Navy Rear Adm. Rich Brophy, Chief of Naval Air Training (CNATRA), also said at the event. “So when you reflect on the million-hour mark, think about that for a second, that’s 114 years of continuous flying.”

Naval Air Training Command is also responsible for training future U.S. Marine Corps aviators and some of its T-45s are marked “MARINES” rather than “NAVY” on the side of their fuselages.

A pair of TAW-1 T-45Cs. The example seen in front is marked “MARINES” on the side. USN Two T-45s with the standard inlet design are seen here. US Navy

The Navy’s T-45Cs look set to keep adding that flight hour tally for the foreseeable future. When the replacement Undergraduate Jet Training System (UJTS) program first emerged publicly some four years ago, the goal had been to pick a winning design in 2026 and to start replacing the Goshawks with those new aircraft by 2028.

Boeing subsequently presented a version of its T-7A Red Hawk trainer, developed originally for the U.S. Air Force. Lockheed Martin, in cooperation with Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI), has put forward the TF-50N. That jet is based on KAI’s T-50, which was one of the losing competitors to the T-7A, but is increasingly popular worldwide (as its light combat jet FA-50 derivative). Textron, together with Italy’s Leonardo, has been pitching the M-346N, a naval variant of the latter company’s M-346, which is also in service with multiple countries around the world. The Sierra Nevada Corporation has also previously shown a rendering of a version of its Freedom jet trainer, which it has been developing in partnership with Turkish Aerospace Industries, in the same colors the Navy’s T-45 wears.

A rendering of a naval version of the T-7A Red Hawk. Boeing
An artist’s conception of the TF-50N. Lockheed Martin
A promotional image depicting the M-346N. Textron

However, in June, the Navy released a new request for information regarding the UJTS effort with an updated schedule that says it now expects to select a new jet trainer in 2028. No new projected timeline for when those jets might enter service is provided. Aviation Week was among the first to report on this delay.

The central factor in this delay appears to be an ongoing internal debate about whether or not the UJTS aircraft need to be carrier-capable. When the UJTS program was first announced in 2020 this requirement was absent, which represented a major shift in training philosophy. As The War Zone wrote that year:

“While this sounds like a ludicrous break in deeply established and proven methodology that would outrage naval aviators old and new, based on our investigation, this isn’t entirely the case. New technologies and a number of other factors have made such a proposed change not just possible, but probable. Still, there is bound to be major controversy surrounding such a move, especially considering the deeply ingrained aviator-focused culture within the Navy’s air arm.”

You can read more in detail about the arguments the Navy presented at that time for making this decision here.

“The Naval Aviation Enterprise (NAE) Senior Leadership is still carefully considering whether the UJTS air vehicle will need to conduct Field Carrier Landing Practice (FCLP) to touchdown,” the updated UJTS contracting notice released in June says. Naval Air Systems Command’s (NAVAIR) Naval Undergraduate Flight Training Systems Program Office (PMA-273) “will release additional information when a decision is made by the NAE. Please note that any draft attributes associated with, or referring to, FCLPs would be removed or modified if a decision is made not to conduct FCLPs to touchdown in the air vehicle.”

Carrier-capable aircraft are designed in fundamentally different ways from their land-based counterparts, including typically having substantially reinforced landing gear. Those differences can also make aircraft designed to operate from carriers more complex and expensive than similarly capable types that only need to fly from bases ashore.

In its story last week, Aviation Week pointed out that the current UJTS requirements as they are publicly known now notably include a need “to be capable of six to 10 unflared landings per training event, and capable of flared landings for the aircraft’s service life.” The Navy trains its carrier-based aviators to conduct unflared landings as the default method.

“The focus on long-term, sustained unflared landings is the driver of cost and schedule uncertainty for the program,” Aviation Week added. “[Boeing’s T-7, the Lockheed/KAI TF-50N, and the Textron/Leonardo M-346N] are not designed to take that type of beating, and would require re-engineering to the point where some industry officials have said UJTS would become an engineering and manufacturing development program.”

What the Navy’s final requirements for its next jet trainer will be in the end and when the design it picks to replace the T-45 actually begins entering service remain to be seen. In the meantime, Navy and Marine aviators will continue logging flight hours on the venerable Goshawk.

Contact the author: