|REVIEWER:||Scott Van Aken|
The Beechcraft T-34 Mentor is an American propeller-driven, single-engined, military trainer aircraft derived from the Beechcraft Model 35 Bonanza. The earlier versions of the T-34, dating from around the late 1940s to the 1950s, were piston-engined. These were eventually succeeded by the upgraded T-34C Turbo-Mentor, powered by a turboprop engine. The T-34 remains in service more than six decades after it was first designed.
After extensive testing, the USAF ordered the Mentor into production as the T-34A in early 1953. The first production T-34A was delivered to Edwards Air Force Base, California, in October 1953 for evaluation, and deliveries to the Air Training Command (ATC) began in 1954. The T-34A commenced service as USAF's initial primary flight trainer at "contract" pilot training air bases across the southern United States, replacing extant North American AT-6 Texan trainers. Following training in the T-34A, USAF pilot trainees would advance to the North American T-28A Trojan for intermediate training.
The T-34A Mentor remained the standard USAF primary trainer until the introduction of the Cessna T-37 Tweet jet trainer in the late 1950s, replacing both the T-34A and T-28A. This also coincided with ATC's implementation of the Undergraduate Pilot Training (UPT) syllabus at various air force bases in the United States under ATC claimancy and phaseout and closure of the contract pilot training air bases. As they were replaced by T-37s, many T-34As were turned over to USAF aero clubs at air force bases in the United States and USAF air bases overseas. In all, the USAF acquired 450 T-34As.
As the U.S. Air Force replaced the last of their T-34As at the beginning of the 1960s, their role taken over by the propeller-driven T-41 Mescalero and the T-37 Tweet primary jet trainer in UPT, those T-34As not allocated to USAF aero clubs or marked for foreign military sales or transfers were turned over to the USAF Auxiliary, the Civil Air Patrol, for use as search aircraft. However, the T-34A's low wing limited its utility in an aerial search and rescue role, and maintenance issues, particularly expensive wing spar repairs that became apparent in the late 1990s, resulted in the last of the former USAF T-34As being withdrawn from CAP service by 2003.
The U.S. Navy kept the T-34B operational as a Naval Air Training Command initial primary trainer at the former Naval Air Station Saufley Field, Florida until the mid-1970s and as a Navy Recruiting Command aircraft until the early 1990s when the last examples were retired as an economy move. Others continue to remain under U.S. Navy control as part of flying clubs at naval air stations and marine corps air stations.
This is one of several boxings of this kit that Minicraft produced. I use the past tense as apparently Minicraft has closed up shop, which is a shame. Though this is the Navy version of the Mentor, the plastic is identical to that in their T-34A kit. The cockpit consists of a floor with molded on side consoles onto which a right and left side are attached. These sides include parts of the nose gear well which, when added to the bit in the floor piece, will make up the three piece well. A rear section completes the tub. The instrument panels are devoid of dial detail and no decals are included. Each of the two seats is five parts with the cushions containing belt detail. These, the control sticks and trim wheels are added to the cockpit before the interior is trapped between the two fuselage halves.
One then has to find room for the 28 grams of weight and frankly, it will be a challenge. In the front a two part forward cowling allows you to trap the prop shaft in place. Instructions show you attaching a small rudder fillet, but photos of Navy T-34s show this item was not used. After this, the wing spar can then be added. Landing lights are then added to the lower wing before it, and the upper halves are joined to the fuselage.
Next the tailplanes are joined together and installed along with the long exhaust pipes. There are four pieces to the canopy/windscreen combo. These appear to be too thick to have the canopies posed open. Perhaps a single piece would have been better.
The build then moves to the landing gear. The gear appears to be quite scale, which means that it appears it might have difficulty holding up all the nose weight. The kit can be built gear up if one wishes and a very nice display stand is provided for that option. No specific location for the stand mounting hole is molded in so you basically pick a spot and drill. To do gear up, the door mounting tabs will need to be removed. A four piece prop that consists of two separate blades and a forward and aft spinner are provided. You are given a choice between a blunt and more pointed spinner. Check your references.
Instructions are very well done and could probably have been reduced from the 23 construction steps as some only show one or two pieces being attached. Still, they are nice to have. There are two markings options. Both are overall yellow USN planes as shown on the box art. One is from Pensacola and the other is from Staufly Field, both from the mid 1950s. You will need to paint the anti-glare panels and wing walk areas. For those who want something different, there are aftermarket sheets that will help in this regard.
Though Minicraft did not deal with the increased wing diheadral of the B version and still provides the Air Force seats, both of those items are fairly minor and unnoticed by the vast majority of aircraft enthusiasts. I built the T-34A and found it a pleasant experience. The large amount of nose weight did not cause the gear to collapse, though replacement metal gear would be a wise choice if they are done.
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