I flew a lot of different aircraft, from the UH-1 Huey to the little Piper Tomahawk along the way. I think my favorite aircraft was the T-28, which I flew in the mid 1970's in VT-6 out of NAS Whiting, down in Florida.
The T-28 was the closest thing you could find to a world war II radial engined fighter in those days. It was a great aircraft, and a joy to fly. This particular Trojan is displayed in the Naval Aviation Museum at Pensacola, Florida today. I flew 8326 on a number of occasions during my time with VT-6, and it's strange to think that now most of the Trojans are gone, burned in crash crew training, and this old aircraft is a museum piece.
This is a friend of mine , John Cowan, who later went on to fly the CH-46 medium lift helicopter. When I took this picture, he and I had just come back from a surreptitious encounter over the pine forests, which we arranged to do a little unauthorized dog fighting. Neither of us was Eric Hartman, but it was fun and had the added savour of risk since we'd have received a severe dressing down had anyone seen and reported us. Ah, to be young again.
My youngest brother came down to Whiting while he was on leave. He was a combat engineer officer. I showed him around the base and later on visited him when he was stationed at Camp Geiger . Overall, I preferred the Wing Wiper lifestyle to that of the ground guys.
This picture was taken just after I got back from a hop over the Gulf of Mexico. The Florida pan handle is hot in summer, and the T-28 had some vent air but no air conditioning. When you pulled yourself out of the aircraft after a couple of hours in that, you were completely soaked in sweat. Encumbered with all the equipment for flying over water, sometimes it was difficult to get yourself out of the cockpit , especially after an aerobatic hop, and the Navy ground crew would have to help pull you out. They were a good bunch, and it was there at VT-6 where I learned the ground crews really determined how strong a squadron was. The best pilots in the world are useless if the aircraft are not ready to fly.
VT-6 rarely flew on weekends. That was a good time to find someone who wanted to go on a short cross country. One of the favorites was Homestead Air Force Base down towards southern Florida. One guy in the front, one in the back, gear in the baggage compartment, and you were off for a great weekend, no transportation costs!
This was a flight where two of us went up. I can tell because while I am checking the magneto switch is off, someone else is going around taking off the chains. Pre-flights went faster when there were two of you, and sometimes, if you knew the guy you were flying with, it was fun. I liked the solo hops the best though.
The T-28 soldiered on for a few years after they were replaced in U.S. Navy service by the newer, turboprop Mentor. Lots of them were lost in Southeast Asia during the Viet Nam war, as the Air Force deployed them with host nations like South Vietnam and Cambodia. There's a great book about flying the T-28 in Laos by an Air Force pilot, it's called "My Secret War." Hard to find these days.
The French used them in Algeria against Islamic terrorists, and they were popular in the Third World because they were easy to fly and easy to maintain. I think they are all long gone now, except for a few in museums and a very few in private hands that you may glimpse at air shows. I look at flying the T-28 the same way I look at being on the U.S.S. New Jersey off Lebanon in 1983. I did something no one else will ever be able to do again, and my life was richer for it. For the most part, if you want to see a T-28 now, you have to look in a book.