The T-7 took off Tuesday from Boeing’s St. Louis, Missouri, facility, where it was built, to begin the 1,400-mile trip to Edwards, the service said.
Its Air Force and Boeing pilots stopped at Vance Air Force Base in Oklahoma and Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico later that day for refueling and to rest for the night. On Wednesday, they continued onto Luke Air Force Base in Arizona for another stop before arriving at Edwards.
“The ferry to Edwards marks a major milestone for the T-7 program as we enter developmental flight test to find out just what this aircraft can do,” T-7 program manager Col. Kirt Cassell said in a statement. “I’ve challenged the collective team to keep up the momentum and teamwork as we still have a long way to go.”
Boeing said in a separate statement that the T-7′s first test flights at Edwards, after the Air Force’s test pilots become familiar with the plane, will involve measuring aerodynamic “flutter.”
The service said further tests will measure the T-7′s other flying qualities and how much load the trainer can bear in flight. Two more Red Hawks are expected to arrive at Edwards over the next few months for further testing.
“Like most test programs, we’ll have discovery and we’ll overcome it quickly,” Cassell said in Boeing’s statement. “This is the right team to go after any challenges we find.”
The Air Force plans to buy 351 T-7s, a jet trainer designed to emulate fifth-generation fighters and allow the service to train new fighter and bomber pilots. They are intended to replace the service’s aging fleet of 504 T-38 Talon trainers, which have been in service for decades and can’t replicate the flying style of newer fighters such as the F-22 and F-35A.
In 2018, Boeing received a $9.2 billion contract from the Air Force to produce T-7s as well as provide 46 simulators and related support.
The T-7 that flew to Edwards this week, known as APT 2, is the first Boeing delivered to the service. It is a production-representative aircraft, but is specifically set up for test flights and evaluation.
In an October interview with Defense News, Cassell said the service hoped to conduct the ferrying flights as early as Oct. 26, though he cautioned that would depend on factors, such as weather.
The Air Force said Thursday that it conducted test pilot training as well as aircraft testing before this week’s departure.
The T-7 program has experienced delays due to several issues, such as a potentially dangerous escape system and faulty flight control software. The T-7 is now expected to reach initial operational capability in spring 2027, years later than the original goal of 2024.
Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at Military.com. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.