The Air Force and Navy fleets are full of interesting, powerful aircraft. The F-15 Eagle and Strike Eagle. The F/A-1E/F Super Hornets. Raptors. Vipers. Bones. Awesome, awe-inspiring iron that delivers on time and on target. But every single Air Force or Navy pilot begins their career in Undergraduate Pilot Training (UPT), or Flight School. Step stones must be followed before any pilot straps into an ACES II in a fighter or bomber. Each service branch operated its primary flight trainer for years, with the Air Force flying the venerable Cessna T-37 Tweet that must have trained tens of thousands of pilots and the Navy flying the Beechcraft T-34 Mentor. The Mentor was basically a Bonanza with tandem seating and rated for full acrobatics. It was a piston that was later engined with turboprop and given the T-34C model. But that is a different story for a different day. Let’s talk a little more about the T-6 Texan II.
Undergraduate Pilot Training & Navy Flight School
First, what exactly is Undergraduate Pilot Training? Navy Flight School seems common sense. There is no difference. It is just a difference in nomenclature; the two services are aiming at doing the same thing: producing competent pilots to replenish their respective fleets. Every year, each branch of service has a quota of pilot slots that must be filled to keep up with mission readiness.
The slots are highly competitive, but that does not mean you are home-free once you earn a slot. The washout rate for Air Force UPT is about seventeen percent, so just shy of one-in-five will not finish with their silver wings. Navy Flight School is higher, at one-quarter of all students washing out. To be fair, this is a good thing. As a Naval Aviator, you don’t have ten thousand feet of pavement at your disposal, so they should be better. This isn’t saying the Air Force isn’t as good; it’s just pointing out that no form of flying is more dangerous than Navy aviation.
The Texan II: A Brief History
The Texan II came out of a long process of finding a replacement for the Cessna T-37 Tweet. The Tweet went into service in 1957 and served an incredible 52 years until it was finally retired in 2009. The Tweet was an incredible airframe, which was also pressed into service as an observation platform and close air support (CAS) aircraft in Vietnam. But you can’t say enough great things about a jet that ushered in the jet age and provided pilots for four of five Air Force fighter generations.
But it was undoubtedly getting long in the tooth by the 21st Century. The avionics desperately needed modernization, reflecting the cockpits of line aircraft in the fleet. Also, no matter how small, a twin-engine jet will always cost more in operational expenses than a comparable turboprop, especially a single-engine turboprop. The T-6 Texan II checked these boxes. It is more fuel efficient, more powerful, and did away with the “steam gauges” still used in the Tweet. So why did the Navy do away with the T-34C Turbo Mentor? Similar reasons. The Mentor was a great aircraft, but it was getting old. Aircraft that are subjected to aerobatics day in and day out for decades deteriorate; there is nothing you can do about it. They just break down over time. Also, you reach a point of diminishing returns when you realize how much it will cost to strip each aircraft down and install all-new avionics. In a move that may surprise most veterans, the two branches (recall that Navy Flight School also trains all USMC and Coast Guard pilots) settled on a common airframe for their primary flight instruction purposes.
What Was the Original Texan?
The original T-6 Texan is one of the most iconic trainers of all time. The big round radial engine is out front with the third wheel on the tail. It is still widely flown, including by the AeroShell Aerobatic Team. With a similar configuration, it is a natural fit to pay homage to the most iconic flight trainers ever.
Who Uses the Texan II?
The Texan II is the primary flight training aircraft for the U.S. Air Force UPT and Navy Flight Training. Once the primary stage is complete, pilots move on to either a fighter/bomber track, which operates the T-38 Talon, or the heavy track, which flies the Raytheon T-1A Jayhawk, which is little more than a Hawker 400.
The Navy is a little different. Their intermediate tracks either head over the T-45 Goshawk for fighter tracks, or the T-44 Pegasus, a King Air A100.
How About Foreign Allies?
Several foreign allies have switched to the T-6, including the UK, Argentina, Mexico, Greece, Israel, and New Zealand, to name a few. Canada also made the switch, although they coined it with the name CT-156 Harvard II.
How About the Competition?
Ironically enough, Beechcraft wiped out much of the competition because the T-6A is a highly modified Pilatus PC-9. In fact, it is actually the Beech Pilatus PC-9 Mk. 2. The Pilatus PC-7 and PC-9 are certainly the stiffest competition if a company can compete against itself. The PC-9 is used by several countries, including Australia (since retired and moved on to the PC-21), Colombia, Thailand, and of course, Switzerland. The UK operated the Shorts Tucano T1, which is a similar design. All of the close competitors post similar marks for horsepower and overall design; none of the modern designs are archaic to the level of the T-37 being replaced by the T-6.
Let’s Talk about Specs & Performance
Power for the Texan II is provided by the always robust Pratt & Whitney PT6A, with this version being the -68 rated at 1,100. According to P&W, the A-68 fall into the “large” category for the PT6A, making it one of the highest-performance engines in the family.
For a frame of reference, the original T-6 Texan used a 600hp R-1340-9 radial engine, yet the Texan II only weighs about 600lbs more empty. The performance is staggering, with the new Texan boasting cruise speeds double that of the original Texan. It’s hard to compare notes since they are completely different designs.
Besides the old design, the Tweet had one serious limitation: fuel burn and duration. The Tweet carried 309 gallons or so, which is roughly double that of the T-6, and burned an astounding 132 gph-186 gph, depending on cruise speed. That is about two or three times the fuel consumption of the PT6A in the T-6, which varies around 50gph, depending on how it is used.
Low Maintenance & High Value
The PT6A is the most popular turboprop engine of all time, and that is not diminishing. The T-6 uses this great engine, which is a common powerplant with the King Air/C-12 Huron series. This reduces overall costs since they will share some common parts. We want to help you set up your logistics train for your T-6 operations, C-12 operations, or whatever else you operate. The PT6A is famous for its high MC rates and long durations between overhauls, but as with all machines, it will eventually fail. Government Procurement, operated by Greenwood Aerospace, is your one-stop shop for setting up a reliable supply chain, building preventative maintenance kits, or even a Program Management agency. We are positioned to help you. Whatever your mission is, give us a call, and we’ll see how we can help you out!