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Retired T-38 on Civilian Aircraft Market

As Much Fun as $800,000 Will Buy

In 1981, Chuck Thornton acquired a discarded United States Air Force Northrop T-38A. Enlisting the help of two A&P mechanics, Mr. Thornton set about rebuilding the sleek jet trainer and, in 1984, proudly saw the aircraft returned to airworthiness, thereby earning a place in aviation history as the world’s first civilian-owned-and-operated T38. That same year, as Prince’s Purple Rain and Ghostbusters cleaned up at the box office, a new hangar was built on Southern California’s Van Nuys Airport (VNY) and Thornton Aviation was established.

Over the ensuing years, the company earned the distinction of becoming the first FAA-Certified Repair Station approved to maintain experimental aircraft. Today, Thornton Aviation’s repair and maintenance purview comprises a broad cross-section of the world’s leading and latest business and charter aircraft.

In 2023, Thornton Aviation employs a staff of 25 full-time professionals, including 17 FAA-licensed mechanics across operations at VNY and BUR.

On 14 April 2023, Thornton Aviation announced the availability, for sale, of a T-38A. The company’s website sets forth the "basic 'core' package" of the jet is available for sale, and can be refurbished with customizations to suit the buyer. The aircraft is the first to be "offered as a project" by Thornton Aviation for civilian use.

The proffered aircraft—T-38A-40, registration N338TC, Northrop serial number 5301, USAF serial number 61-0935—has a total of 6,479 total airframe hours. The machine is powered by a pair of General Electric J-85-13C eight-stage, axial-flow, afterburner-equipped, turbojet engines respectively totaling 1314 and 3369 hours Total Time Since New (TTSN).

Renowned for its fitness as a training platform for both student and inexperienced pilots, the T-38 features a streamlined fuselage, a tricycle undercarriage with a steerable nose wheel, and a rocket-powered ejection seat. The T-38 is used, also, to train advanced students in disciplines such as acrobatic flight, formation flying, night flights, and instrument and navigation training.

The twin-engine, supersonic, aircraft is the last available T-38 in Thornton Aviation’s inventory and is presently in stock military condition with a stripped (bare metal) exterior. The aircraft offers superb performance, excellent flight characteristics, and an unmatched safety record in military service.

To date, Thornton Aviation has restored four additional T-38’s and three F-5A/B’s. subject aircraft were disassembled and rebuilt to U.S. Air Force standards with all components overhauled and certified, including compliance with all safety of flight Time Compliance Technical Orders (TCTO)—the USAF equivalent of service bulletins. The aircraft currently presented for sale is offered with the standard T-38 five-inch electromechanical instrumentation with Flight Director (FD) and Collins Proline radios. Modern digital electronics (EFIS) can be substituted at the buyer’s request.

Thornton Aviation’s first completed T-38 was awarded “Grand Champion Warbird” at the EAA’s AirVenture Oshkosh 1985.

Prospective buyers ought prepare themselves for the inherent joys and challenges of an aircraft with a maximum speed of Mach 1.3 (867-knots), a service-ceiling of FL500, and a range of only seven-hundred-nautical-miles.

All told, the T-38 presents itself as the speediest and most stylish means by which a civilian pilot can get himself from ORD to DFW—just.



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