ST. LOUISBoeing [BA] as early as this week is slated to begin taxi tests of its first T-7A trainer aircraft that is in the engineering and manufacturing development (EMD) phase of the program and will be followed in mid-June with the start of Air Force flight testing, company officials said last week during a media tour of Boeing’s defense work here.

Boeing test pilots will fly the first EMD T-7A aircraft, called Advanced Pilot Trainer 2, for the Acceptance Test Procedure that will include checks of the emergency and backup systems, according to company officials.

Boeing has five EMD aircraft in various stages of production, all of which will fly. The company continues to fly its two Production Ready Jets (PRJs), which have racked up more than 7,000 test points in nearly 500 flights to reduce development risk.

One of the PRJs landed after an approximately 60-minute test flight while reporters were receiving a program brief next to APT 2, just off the flightline at St. Louis Lambert International Airport.

Boeing is targeting the third quarter of 2024 for a decision to proceed into low-rate production of the T-7A and the Air Force is “talking” the first quarter of 2025, Donn Yates, director of T-7 business development, said on Friday. “The truth is somewhere in the middle,” he said, adding that the schedule could slide left or right depending how development goes.

Boeing and its teammate Saab in 2018 won the potential $9.2 billion contract for up to 351 T-7As to replace the Air Force’s T-38C trainer. The program schedule called for a production decision in late 2023 the initial operating capability (IOC)—which will occur once 14 production aircraft are delivered—in March 2026. Now the Air Force is projecting Jan. 2027 for IOC.

Yates said that Boeing thinks it can meet IOC before the government’s current timeline.