WASHINGTON — The first of the U.S. Air Force’s new fleet of trainer jets, Boeing’s T-7A Red Hawk, was unveiled to the public in a rollout ceremony Thursday in St. Louis, Missouri.

The event, held in a Boeing facility at Lambert International Airport, marked the first delivery of 351 planned T-7s, which will replace the more than 5-decade-old T-38 Talon aircraft.

Boeing received a $9.2 billion contract in 2018 to create and deliver the Air Force’s new trainer, which was designed to teach pilots to fly fourth- and fifth-generation aircraft.

The T-7 was named in honor of the famed Tuskegee Airmen of World War II, the first squadron of Black fighter pilots who broke racial boundaries and were nicknamed the “Red Tails” after their planes’ distinctive markings. The T-7′s own red tails are another nod to that legacy.

Retired Lt. Col. George Hardy and children of the late Brig. Gen. Charles McGee, both of whom were Tuskegee Airmen, attended the event. The debuted T-7 bore Hardy and McGee’s names below the cockpit canopy.

“With this rollout, we honor our storied history and the heroes who wrote the chapters, and we usher in an exciting new era of aviation and a new generation of heroes who will write the next chapters,” Air Force Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Richard Clark said.

Boeing used high-tech digital engineering tools to design and build the T-7, allowing it to move from a concept to its first flight in three years — faster than the typical timeline for aircraft development.

Air Education and Training Command head Lt. Gen. Brad Webb said the T-7, which was designed to emulate a fifth-generation fighter, will be crucial as the service revamps its pilot training programs. Within a decade, Webb said, nearly 60% of the Air Force’s combat pilots will be flying fifth-generation fighters.

The first T-7 will next undergo a series of ground checks and taxi tests before it makes its first flight in the next few weeks, the Air Force said. It will fly to Edwards Air Force Base in California later this year for further flight tests.

The 99th Flying Training Squadron, which was originally formed to train the Tuskegee Airmen and still trains pilots today at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph in Texas, will be the first squadron to receive the T-7, Webb said.

Webb also noted that Tuskegee Airmen celebrated successful missions during World War II with a bottle of Coca-Cola, and that the 99th currently celebrates trainees’ graduations by popping open the soda.

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.

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