On December 15th, 2016, the CAF Dixie Wing’s Beechcraft T-34B Mentor took to the skies for the first time after a meticulous restoration by unit volunteers. General George Harrison and Jack Van Ness took off around 2:30pm from Atlanta Regional Airport and flew around the patch for about an hour. During the flight, they followed strict engine break-in protocol and tested the various aircraft systems.
Van Ness described the first flight stating, “Today, almost two years after arriving at the Dixie Wing, the T-34 restoration crew and sponsors have reason to feel proud of the results of their outstanding efforts. The flight went well, with only a few squawks. The cold weather provided an excellent performance environment for both engine and wings, as she climbed like a homesick angel, eager to be free from captivity and to fly once again. While this is a Dixie Wing project, it was through the generosity of the 2015 Planes of Christmas Fund, and the CAF Headquarters Matching Grant Program, that we were able to have our tired old engine overhauled. THANK YOU to all who have been supportive and involved with this project!”
The Dixie Wing’s T-34B joined the US Navy as Bu.140687 in August, 1955, which makes it one of the earliest Mentors to enter naval service. From 1955 until April, 1976, she trained many US Navy and Marine Corps pilots at Whiting Field and Saufely Field in Florida as well as NAS Corpus Christy in Texas. Following these postings, she briefly went into storage at Davis Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona, before transfer in 1977 to the Fuerza Aérea de República Dominicana (FAD), or Dominican Air Force. A civilian company specializing in T-34s put the airframe through a full overhaul for the FAD and upgraded her with a more powerful IO-520 285hp engine prior to her move to the Caribbean island nation. She began her second military career in 1979 at the Escuela de Aviación Militar, Dominica’s military aviation school, training pilots for the FAD which still had P-51D Mustangs on strength at the time! After serving the FAD faithfully for the next two decades, Bu.140687 finally retired from military operations. Norman Earle bought the T-34 in 2001, along with several other surplus Dominican examples, and moved them back to his company’s facility in Hastings, Florida. Earle placed the Mentor on the US civilian registry as N687HV soon after, and she received her American airworthiness certificate in May, 2002. By the time the Commemorative Air Force received her as a donation in 2014, the T-34 had sat idle for several years, and although hangared for most of her time in the USA, her previous life outdoors in the humid and salt-laden tropical air of the Dominican Republic had begun to catch up with the venerable trainer. Fortunately for N687HV, the CAF Dixie Wing took the aircraft on strength and quickly got to work restoring the T-34 back to her former glory.
Bob Heath, the Dixie Wing’s Maintenance Office remarked on their recent accomplishment stating, “The Dixie Wing T-34B is an important addition to the Dixie Wing’s line up of historic aircraft as it represents the military’s transition from the WWII era to modern, all-metal and jet aircraft. The T-34 will continue in its educational role by providing Living History Flight Experience rides with other aircraft in the Dixie Wing fleet.”
After the initial post-restoration flight on December 15th, and following a few ground adjustments, the T-34 made her second flight the following day, this time heading to Delta Airlines overhaul facility in Atlanta for repainting. She will then become an active member of the Dixie Wing fleet who hope to operate the T-34 in their rides program and as a photo-ship. They also plan to use her as a recruiting tool for new members and for pilots who don’t have a tailwheel endorsement.