By Norm Goyer
I would like to thank Wikipedia for the technical notes on the Beechcraft T-34 Mentor. NG
By far the most popular warbird currently in demand is the Beechcraft T-34 Mentor. Thousands of these two-passenger Bonanza based primary trainer were manufactured by Beechcraft in two series. The first from 1953 to 1959 and then the second batch, turbo prop powered, for the US Navy from 1975 to 1990. This inexpensive military aircraft was very popular with foreign countries with emerging air forces such as Mexico, Peru, Spain, China, Turkey, Philippines, Morocco and Japan. Beechcraft built 2400 of them, and many are still flying including those with the US Navy which are slowly being replaced with the new Texan II, also from Beechcraft but developed from a Swiss design.
Initially Beech introduced three design concepts for the Model 45, including one with the Bonanza’s signature V-tail, but the final design that emerged in 1948 incorporated conventional tail control surfaces for the benefit of the more conservative military featuring a relatively large unswept vertical fin that would find its way onto the Travel Air twin-engine civil aircraft. The Bonanza’s fuselage with four-passenger cabin was replaced with a narrower fuselage incorporating a two-seater tandem cockpit and bubble canopy, which provided greater visibility for the trainee pilot and flight instructor. Structurally, the Model 45 was much stronger than the Bonanza, being designed for plus10g and a negative 4.5g, while the Continental E-185 engine of 185 horsepower (hp) at takeoff (less than a third of the power of the T-6′s engine was the same as that fitted to contemporary Bonanzas.
Beechcraft also manufactured the T-34B for the United States Navy beginning in 1955. This version featured a number of changes reflecting the different requirements of the two services. The T-34B had only differential braking for steering control on the ground instead of nose wheel steering, additional wing dihedral and, to accommodate the different heights of pilots, adjustable rudder pedals instead of the moveable seats of the T-34A. The Dash A model was completed in 1956, with the Dash B being built until October 1957.
In 1955, Beechcraft privately developed a jet-engined derivative in the hope of winning a contract from the US military. The Model 73 Jet Mentor shared many components with the piston-engined aircraft; major visual differences were the redesigned cockpit which was relocated further forward in the fuselage and the air intakes for the jet engine in the wing roots, supplying air to a single jet engine in the rear fuselage. The first flight of the Model 73, registered N134B, was on December 18, 1955. The Model 73 was evaluated and not accepted by the USAF, which did order the Cessna T-37. The US Navy decided upon the Temco TT Pinto. The Beechcraft jet powered Model 73 was not put into production.
After a production hiatus of almost 15 years, the T-34C Turbo-Mentor powered by a Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-25 turboprop engine was developed in 1973. Development proceeded at the request of the USN, which supplied two T-34Bs for conversion. After installing the PT6, the two aircraft were redesignated as YT-34Cs, the first of these flying with turboprop power for the first time on September 21, 1973. Mentor production re-started in 1975 for deliveries of T-34Cs to the USN and of the T-34C-1 armed version for export customers in 1977, this version featuring four underwing hardpoints. The last Turbo-Mentor rolled off the production line in 1990.
In 2004, due to a series of crashes involving in-flight structural failure during simulated combat flights, the entire US civilian fleet of T-34s was grounded by the Federal Aviation Administration. The grounding has since been eased to a series of restrictions on the permitted flight envelope.
A large number of T-34s with Continental engines were released to the CAP for search missions and many of those eventually ended up in private hands. These are the Mentors that are seen in huge formations arriving at Sun ‘n Fun and AirVenture. Compared to the North American T-6 Texan and SNJ the T-34 is very easy to fly, but don’t tell a Mentor pilot this.
Specifications US Navy T-34C Turbo-Mentor
Length: 28 ft 8½ in
Wingspan: 33 ft 3⅞ in
Height: 9 ft 7 in
Wing area: 179.6 ft²
Empty weight: 2,960 lb
Max takeoff weight: 4,300 lb T-34C-1 weapons trainer – 5,500 lb
Never exceed speed: 280 knots 322 mph
Cruise speed: 214 knot, 246 mph max cruise at 17,000 ft