Saturday, June 20, 2009

Student flies last T-37 training mission

by John Ingle, 82nd Training Wing Public Affairs

SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas (AFNS) -- A familiar noise was missing from the 80th Flying Training Wing's aircraft parking ramp at about 2:30 p.m. June 17, one that has been prevalent in the Air Force's pilot training mission for 50 years -- the high-pitched screech of the T-37B Tweet.

The final student training mission began at 1 p.m., marking the last time an Air Force pilot will begin their career in the introductory jet.

Second Lt. Trevor Kernes, 89th Flying Training Squadron student pilot, said he was honored to be part of the historical event.

"Anyone of these guys deserves it," the future Ohio National Guardsman said. "To be chosen out of some of the best in the world is an honor. I'm humbled."

Lieutenant Kernes, a former forward air traffic controller who served in Afghanistan after 9/11 and was part of the initial push into Iraq in 2003, said the Tweet was fun to fly and a good training platform.

"I'm sorry for the T-6A (Texan II) student pilots," he said, "because they didn't get to fly the T-37."

Since 1959, more than 78,000 Air Force pilots have flown the venerable Tweet. The T-37 began its extraordinary flight into history in 1956 when it became an active aircraft in the U.S. Air Force inventory becoming operational in 1959.

The 80th FTW is the last organization in the Air Force to use the airframe.

Col. David Petersen, 80th FTW commander, said the durable aircraft lived up to expectations and then some.

"It's been a great trainer for 50 years," he said. "Right up to the end, it's been a good aircraft."

Lt. Col. Doug Antcliff, 19th Air Force standards and evaluation pilot, flew the Tweet for the last 11 years. He said the aircraft is the same today as it was in 1991 when he was a student pilot, however, it doesn't make it any easier to see an "old friend" retire.

"There is nothing new of that airplane," he said of the aircraft's technology. "But, I'm sad to see it go because it is a true workhorse."

The Tweet officially retires from active service July 31. The 80th FTW began training student pilots Aug. 29, 2008, in the Tweet's replacement the Texan II.