The USAF initiated the Next Generation Trainer (NGT) program in 1977,
to produce an aircraft that would replace the Cessna T-37 primary
trainer and take over the lower end of the Northrop T-38 training spectrum.
Fairchild Republic was one of the five bidders for the NGT, the
others were Cessna, General Dynamics, Rockwell and Vought. Fairchild
Republic's unusual approach included a scaled flying
demonstrator to substantiate technical data. In early 1981 Fairchild
Republic contracted Ames Industrial Corporation to design, build and
test the aircraft, the external shape being specified by Fairchild
Republic. Ames in turn contracted Rutan Aircraft at Mojave,
California to design the structure and systems, and to conduct the
flight test program.
The exact size of the single-seat aircraft (62 percent of the full
scale aircraft) was determined by the output of its two 220 lb (100
kg) s.t. Microturbo TRS 18-056 turbofans. The readily available
FAA-certified engines were built in license by Ames. The aircraft
structure, designed by Burt Rutan and designated Rutan 73 NGT, was
fabricated in foam-cored carbon fiber and glass fiber. Empty weight
was 1,000 lb (456 kg), gross weight was 1,600 lb (726 kg); the
construction of the demonstrator at Ames' Bohemia, New York,
facility took seven months.
On September 4, 1981, the airframe was delivered to Rutan at Mojave,
and on September 10, test pilot Richard "Dick" Rutan made
the first flight, followed by three more flights within 48 hours, by
three different pilots, one without previous turbo-jet experience,
proving the aircraft excellent flying qualities. In 23 hours of test
flight the scaled flying demonstrator produced higher quality data
compared to wind-tunnel data, while it was built at costs ($ 500,000)
comparable to a conventional wind-tunnel program.
On July 2, 1982, the USAF announced it had selected Fairchild
Republic as the winner of the NGT contest. A contract was awarded to
design, develop, construct and test two full scale development
aircraft and two static test examples and an contained an option for
54 production aircraft. The total USAF procurement was planned at 650
aircraft for delivery from 1987 to March 1992.
The first of the two development aircraft (s/n 84-0492), by then
designated T-46A, was rolled out at Fairchild Republic, Hagerstown,
Maryland, facility on February 11, 1985, although it did not start
its first engine run before August 7. After engine test were
completed it was disassembled and flown in a Lockheed C-5A Galaxy to
Edwards AFB, California, where the first flight was conducted by
Fairchild Republic test pilot Jim Martinez on October 15, 1985.
By the time of the first flight of the second aircraft (s/n 84-0493)
on July 29, 1986, from Hagerstown, the program was running a year
behind schedule, due to financial, management and technical problems.
Already in March 1986 the USAF had announced the termination of it
planned T-46A program, in favor of upgrading the existing Cessna T-37
fleet, and although the first of 10 production aircraft (85-1596 to
85-1605) made its first flight on January 14, 1987, the program was
terminated on March 13, 1987, exactly 47 month after the first metal
was cut. The remaining 9 production aircraft were not finished.
The type received the nicknames Eaglet and Thunder Piglet, and all
three T-46A aircraft are still in existence: 84-0492 is on display at
Edwards AFB, 84-0493 is in storage at USAF Museum, Ohio and 85-1596
is at AMARC since April 27, 1987.