Maj. Bryce Turner, a test pilot from the 416th Flight Test Squadron at Edwards AFB, Calif., has achieved a historic feat by becoming the first Air Force pilot to fly the T-7A Red Hawk.
On June 28, 2023, the aircraft lifted off at 11:51 a.m., CST, during a test flight at the Boeing aircraft delivery center in St. Louis, Mo.
The T-7A is a brand-new, state-of-the-art pilot training system created specifically for the Air Force, with the purpose of training future fighter and bomber pilots. The aircraft is the first digitally designed tactical aircraft, finessed using model-based systems engineering and 3D design tools. The aircraft will replace the 1950’s era T-38 Talon, providing the next generation of warfighters the training capability needed to face current and emerging threats. The T-7A is affectionally crimsoned ‘Red Hawk’ as a homage to the iconic Tuskegee Airmen.
The accomplishment of flying this unique aircraft adds another chapter to the Turner family’s rich legacy of aviation firsts.
As a third-generation Air Force fighter pilot, Turner follows in the footsteps of his grandfather, Lt. Col. (Ret.) Alexander Parker Turner, one of the first African American jet pilots in 1956, and his father, Col. (Ret.) Bryan Turner, the first African American F-22 pilot. His callsign, affectionally known as “Triple,” reflects these three generations of Airmen.
Turner’s journey is a testament to his exceptional aptitude for aviation and unwavering determination. From an early age, his passion for flying was ignited as he watched his father perform with the Viper Demo Team at Misawa Air Base, Japan. With a strong affinity for problem-solving and mathematics, Turner pursued engineering studies at the University of Virginia, ultimately earning a degree in Aerospace Engineering while participating in the Reserve Officer Training Corps.
His aviation career took off when he was selected for Air Force pilot training, progressing through various programs that included flying the T-6, T-38 and F-16. Turner’s journey took a poignant turn when he had the opportunity to fly the same T-38 tail number his father had flown decades earlier.
After serving in operational assignments as an F-16 fighter pilot at Kunsan Air Base, Korea, and Aviano Air Base, Italy, Turner set his sights on attending the prestigious United States Air Force Test Pilot School to pursue his dream of testing cutting-edge technology. With the counsel of a close friend from the University of Virginia ROTC, who had previously attended TPS, Turner successfully navigated the application process and earned admission.
Joining class 20A at TPS in January 2020, Turner excelled in all aspects of the program, developing a particular passion for flight sciences. The Qualitative Evaluation program, a highlight of the curriculum, exposed him to a wide range of aircraft, including the T-33, the same jet his grandfather had learned to fly in 1958.
Following his graduation from TPS, Turner was assigned to the 416th FLTS at Edwards, where he conducted flight tests on the F-16. It was during this time that he discovered a close connection to his family legacy when he met Mark Sherrier, a long-time civilian pilot at the 416th, who had flown alongside and fought in Operation Allied Force with Turner’s father. The tight-knit community at Edwards ensured Turner continued to find connections to his family’s aviation heritage.
As his career progressed, Turner seized the opportunity to work on the emerging T-7A, a chance to apply his aerospace engineering expertise while conducting flight sciences testing. This opportunity perfectly aligned with his experience in high-angle-of-attack flight tests and pilot training on the F-16.
“The T-7A program combines my engineering problem-solving abilities with the ability to carry on my family’s aviation legacy,” Turner said. “The T-7A is breaking barriers by accommodating a broader range of aircrew in terms of cockpit and ejection seat dimensions.”
According to Turner, aircraft design has historically excluded many women and non-standard body types from becoming tactical pilots due to inadequate ejection seat dimensions. Turner has a personal connection to this issue from his great aunt, who was best friends with Lt. Col.
(Ret.) Theresa Claiborne, the first African American female pilot in the Air Force. In addition to its agile design, the T-7A will accommodate a much broader range of physical dimensions in the cockpit. The re-designed cockpit and ejection seat represents a significant step towards inclusivity, while eliminating barriers that prevented many from pursuing tactical pilot training.
“To the next generation of aviators, I can safely say I am jealous” notes Triple. “This aircraft’s performance, commitment to pilot safety, and ground-based training system is something I could only dream of during my time in flight training. The T-7A performs like a fighter!”.
With his remarkable achievements and dedication to pushing boundaries, Turner embodies the spirit of innovation and excellence that defines the Air Force. An integrated team of 416th FLTS and Boeing personnel will continue initial flight testing of the T-7A in St. Louis before ferrying the aircraft to Edwards later this year.