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NASA T-38 jet reunited with space shuttle Enterprise in New York

April 28, 2016

— A NASA supersonic jet that chased the space shuttle Enterprise as it performed test landings in California 40 years ago has finally caught up with the prototype orbiter in New York City.

The T-38 Talon jet, tail number 913, was hoisted by crane and raised by elevator to the flight deck of the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum on Wednesday (April 27) in Manhattan. The jet's "landing" took place exactly four years to the day since the space shuttle Enterprise arrived in New York for display aboard the converted aircraft carrier.

"Well, it's finally here," said Eric Boehm, the curator of aviation at the Intrepid. "We had the T-38 here [on the pier for] a couple of weeks [but] we had some really bad winds and could not get it up to the flight deck. But we craned it this morning onto the port-side aircraft elevator and brought the elevator up."

"The T-38 is finally home and soon to be on display right outside the space shuttle pavilion building," Boehm said.

One of several similar jets that served as support aircraft during Enterprise's 1977 Approach and Landing Test (ALT) program at the Dryden (now Armstrong) Flight Research Center in southern California, the two-seat T-38 913 (N913NA) was built by Northrop in 1965 and delivered to the space agency in 1969. The aircraft flew for 38 years in support of the space program.

The Intrepid acquired the T-38 jet after NASA released it as surplus. The museum sought the aircraft due to its connection with Enterprise's past in order to better tell the history of the space shuttle.

In addition to serving as a chase plane, T-38 no. 913 was also used as a training jet, flown by astronauts to gain experience working in a high-pressure environment and to keep up their flight proficiency.

"We have the shuttle here, so that reminds me of my past life [but] this, in some ways, is a little more intimate to me," said Michael Massimino, a former astronaut who now serves as the Intrepid's senior advisor for space programs. "The shuttle I only got to fly twice on two missions and you were around it every once in a while training or working. But the T-38, I would fly just about every week."

In addition to the Enterprise, which is displayed inside the Intrepid's Space Shuttle Pavilion along with a Russian Soyuz capsule that flew to the International Space Station, the T-38 jet joins a number of other historic aircraft on the museum's flight deck, including a Lockheed A-12, the predecessor to the SR-71 Blackbird.

"Up to now — except for the shuttle — the rest of the ship for me has always been learning about what other people have done," explained Massimino. "This is a little bit different because [the T-38] is the airplane I worked in for 18 years at NASA. It is a different type of experience engaging with an artifact when you see something that you've been with."

Before being delivered to the Intrepid, the T-38 was repainted to match the livery it had when flying with space shuttle Enterprise.

Several other NASA T-38 jets are on display around the country, including exhibits at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama; the California Science Center in Los Angeles; Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida; Space Center Houston in Texas; the Cosmosphere museum in Hutchinson, Kansas; and Aviation Heritage Park in Bowling Green, Kentucky.


Below photos: Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum

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