Boeing presented the documentation on September 12 to deliver the first T-7A Red Hawk training aircraft to the United States Air Force, representing the last step towards the Army’s goal of reaching initial operational capability in 2027. The Forces The Air Force expects to receive four more Red Hawks before the end of the year; Colonel Kirt Cassell told reporters at the AFA Air, Space and Cyber ​​Conference.

“It’s exciting, it’s like being handed the keys to a car,” said Cassell, chief of the Air Force’s T-7A Red Hawk division. “Of course, I have to give the keys to Air Force test pilots [who work] with Boeing test pilots.”

In fact, if the Air Force accepts delivery of the first T-7A, Boeing would still be responsible for maintaining the aircraft during the flight testing process. The plane, designated APT 2, is the same one that Maj. Bryce Turner flew on June 28, the first official test flight by an Air Force pilot.

Air Force test pilots will begin flying the jet at Boeing’s St. Louis, Missouri, facility later this month. Two more aircraft will join APT 2 in October if all goes well. APT 1 and 2 will be used to test flight sciences and could be sent to Edwards Air Force Base, California, in October, while APT 3 will undergo meteorological testing at Eglin Base’s McKinley Climate Laboratory. of the Air Force (Florida) before being used as a mission systems test platform. APTs 4 and 5 are scheduled to be added later this year, said Cassell and Evelyn Moore, vice president and program manager for Boeing’s T-7 programs.

At a previous conference in July, Cassell told reporters that the first two Red Hawks were ready to be moved to Edwards Air Force Base, California, in September but that the process had taken longer than expected due to paperwork problems, as they explained.

“We had a lot to learn… there were a lot of long nights on both sides to get to where we are today,” the colonel said.

Delays are not new to the T-7 program, which was initially scheduled to be operationally capable in 2024. The aircraft was initially hailed as proof of the promise of new digital engineering and design processes. Still, the Red Hawk has subsequently had problems with flight stability, flight control software and problems with the ejection seat. In May, Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said digital engineering had been “overdone” to reduce development time and cost, adding that nothing can replace real-world testing.

If the Red Hawk makes it through the next few years of testing, it should provide a useful boost to the Air Force’s rapidly aging fleet of T-38 Talon trainers, which are increasingly difficult to keep airworthy. The Red Hawk is designed to facilitate maintenance, information management and modular systems architecture, to help student pilots better prepare for modern air combat.

The Air Force plans to purchase 351 T-7s, of which 350 will remain if APT 2 is accepted.