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Owning and Flying a T-34 Part 1

Tod McCutchan

My current love affair with my T-34 was almost not to be. When I first began looking for a two-seat aerobatic aircraft that could also go someplace in early 2009, I had already written her off for dead. While the difficulties for the aircraft from 1999 through 2003 were well documented and publicized, I had no idea that the venerable Beech T-34 Mentor was back and better than ever, thanks to the dedication of a group of owners and enthusiasts known simply as the T-34 Association.

They had the daunting task of figuring out how to return their beloved aircraft back to the sky, and in the process, forged a path that laid the groundwork for all aging aircraft. Their tireless efforts created an example for many owners and pilots to address the issues of fatigue and aging that are beginning to become problematic for a large portion of our GA fleet; the T-34 Association ensured that vintage aircraft and warbirds will be flying our skies, turning our heads, and filling our dreams for many generations to come.

T-34
Todd McCutchan’s aircraft

History
This isn’t a story about those difficult days, though. This story is about the return to glory of an aircraft type that first flew on December 2, 1948, and has been in continuous military service since 1953. It’s one of the very few military aircraft that ever resumed production after about a 15-year gap, and its more than 2,300 production units have served in 23 different militaries worldwide. Today there are 126 Beech T-34 Mentors on the FAA registry (54 A’s, 62 B’s, and 10 C’s) and an estimated 300-plus total aircraft in civilian hands worldwide. The T-34 is quickly regaining its historical role as one of the most sought-after and economical warbirds to own and operate.

Models and Differences
There are three basic models of the Beech T-34: 1) the T-34A (civilian A-45) which was used by the Air Force and was also exported as the “T-34A / B-45,” both of which are classified in the aerobatic category; 2) the T-34B (civilian B-45) which was used by the Navy and is identified in its civilian form as the “T-34B / D-45” and classified in the utility category; and 3) the T-34C which was used by NASA and the Navy, is easily identified by its long nose and turbine engine, and is classified in the experimental category.

This article will focus on the T-34A and B as they’re the most common in civilian use. The largest difference between the A and B airframes other than their certification class (A = aerobatic and B = utility) are the fuel systems (the A model feeds from either left or right while the B feeds from both tanks to a header tank), the seat/rudder pedals (the A has an adjustable seat and fixed rudder pedals while the B has a fixed seat and adjustable rudder pedals), nose gear steering (the A has it and the B is free caster), and dihedral (the B has one degree more dihedral).

Modifications
There are numerous modifications available for both models of the aircraft and are too numerous to list here, but some of the most common are upgrading the 225- or 260-hp IO-470 to the more powerful 285-hp IO-520-BB, 300-hp IO-550-B, or 310-hp IO-550-R. The addition of 15-gallon tip tanks is also one of the common modifications to accommodate the thirstier large engines (standard fuel 50 gallons), and some aircraft have been modified with a “wet” wing holding 80 gallons internally. Many of the aircraft have updated instruments and avionics as well as autopilots.

Panel
Panel in Todd’s T-34

Ownership
I purchased my Beech T-34A (B-45), serial number CG-21, with the 285-hp IO-520 in June of 2009. It was one of only a handful of aircraft that met my minimum mission criteria of two seats, aerobatic, good cruise speed, efficiency, and baggage space. I’ve flown the aircraft more than 300 hours since then, and in that time other than complying with the AMOCs which brought the T-34A back to its full aerobatic envelope, adding tip tanks, and bringing the instrument panel into the 21st century, I’ve only changed the oil and replaced one tire and one landing light. To say the T-34 is a “gas and go” airplane is an understatement. I’ve flown my aircraft from New York to Florida and from Florida to California numerous times, and I’ve found it to be as reliable as any GA aircraft I’ve ever flown. For flight planning purposes, I use www.FltPlan.com and have found their stock F-33 Bonanza profile comes very close to the actual profile for my aircraft. When the aircraft needs maintenance, parts aren’t a problem.

There are numerous shops around the country that specialize in the T-34, and the aircraft shares a very large percentage of parts commonality with its Beech cousins. The usual items that routinely need changing or wear out (alternators, spark plugs, oil filters, tires, brakes, hoses, etc.) are all common to the GA community. There are very few recurring airworthiness directives on the aircraft. Every 100 hours you must lubricate your up-lock rollers and check your elevator for cracks (about 1 hour of labor total), and every 500 hours you must do an NDT check of your horizontal stabilizer for cracks.
The recurring inspection for your wing will depend on which AMOC you have. But in general these initially occur between 3,000 to 25,000 hours, so it isn’t too much of a concern. Insurance is easily obtainable and will cost approximately $2,500/year for an average airframe with $1 million of liability coverage. 

Next month: Flying a T-34

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