An original production Beechcraft T-34 “Mentor” returned to Edwards Oct. 17 for a one-day visit 60 years after it was delivered to Edwards AFB for the T-34 flight test program. The G-11 model was one of three T-34s that came to Edwards in October 1953 for acceptance testing.
“As a trainer coming into the Air Force they want to make sure no modifications need to be made,” said Maj. Mike Talbot, Military State Reserve and CEO of a small aerospace business. “They took the three of them and ran them really hard out here and did flight test review and found nothing they really wanted to change.”
After the acceptance testing program was completed the T-34 served in the Air Force Training Command at Marana AFB, Ariz., Hondo AFB, Texas, and Spence AFB, Ga. In 1957, it was sent to Tinker AFB, Okla., where it was “loaned” from the Air Force to the Tinker Aero Club with a civilian registration number.
The following year it was removed from the Air Force’s inventory and moved to the Civil Air Patrol in Oklahoma, and in 1975 it was obtained by its first civilian owner.
Thirty years ago, Talbot “fell in love” with the T-34 and went searching for one of his own. When he found the T-34 it had a “run out” engine and was parked in the back corner of Parks Industries, a major T-34 restoration company in Amarillo, Texas. For the next six years Talbot’s T-34 underwent complete restoration as funds were available.
“We took every nut and bolt out of it,” said Talbot. “Everything was completely overhauled and some new systems were added. Many of the parts have been recalibrated but it’s the whole original airplane, much like it was sitting here 60 years ago.”
After the restoration process began, Talbot visited Edwards for an open airshow. At that time he found a photograph of an aircraft that intrigued him in the Pancho Barnes room at Club Muroc. He set his mind to discovering what airplane was in the photograph and found that it was his T-34, the very model that was being restored at Parks Industries.
“I’m down there squinting, reading the tail number and it was like somebody slugged me in the chest. It was my airplane,” said Talbot. “I was going to paint it like one of these T-38’s out here when it was finished, but [after finding that photograph] I got on the phone and I said ‘Earl, you’re not going to believe this, we’re going to mark it exactly as it was delivered at Edwards.'”
Today, the aircraft, fully restored, is owned by Walt Woltosz, CEO of Simulations Plus. His goal was to purchase an airplane that he could learn to do aerobatics in.
“It’s a very forgiving airplane, but a very capable airplane for a trainer because you can do all of the aerobatics that you have to do,” said Woltosz. “It’s the old stick and rudder, true flying skills.”
During their visit to Edwards, Talbot and Woltosz re-enacted the photograph shown at Club Muroc.
“I located the original T-34 test report at the Edwards History Office. Reading through the report, I felt a close connection to the captain who was assigned the T-34 program. Sixty years ago, this test pilot and his team went out and evaluated the airplane as a primary trainer. He flew the same basic performance and handling qualities test points that we still teach students at the USAF Test Pilot School today. Of course, back then they plotted all the data by hand on graph paper, but the principles are all still the same as we teach in the school house today,” said Lt. Col. Sean Borror, USAF Test Pilot School deputy commandant.
Both Talbot and Waltosz have had connections to Edwards during their professional careers. Waltosz joined the Air Force when he was 17 years old and flew B-52s as an in-flight technician for hound dog missiles. He went on to earn his master’s degree in aerospace engineering and work for the shuttle program in 1971 at the Air Force Rocket Propulsion Lab.
Talbot began his professional life as a partner in the second largest law firm in Orange County.
“In my heart I wanted to do something else and I had flown since I was a kid. My dad and my uncles had flown,” said Talbot. “I found that Pete Conrad, commander of Apollo 12, second moon landing, four space flights, had left McDonald Douglas and started a company within a mile of where my office was.”
Eventually Talbot ran the parent company working on aerospace development projects and several shuttle replacement programs.
When Waltosz purchased his T-34 from Talbot in June, he gained more than just an airplane, he gained a friend.
“As much as I have loved and enjoyed that airplane [Waltosz] was the one person in the world that should have gotten it from me and he did,” said Talbot.