The U.S. Air Force used the T-34A for primary flight training during the 1950s. The original Mentor, a Beechcraft Model 45, was first flown in December, 1948. The Mentor derived from the famous Walter Beech designed “Bonanza” and was the last airplane he designed. In fact, one of the three initial design concepts for the Model 45 even incorporated the early Bonanza’s iconic “V” tail. However, conventional tail surfaces were ultimately chosen to appease a more conservative military.
Development of the Model 45 was undertaken as a private venture by the Beech Aircraft Corporation with the hope that the new trainer would be chosen by the military as an economical alternative to the North American T-6 Texan. The Bonanza’s four-passenger cabin was replaced with a narrower fuselage incorporating a two-seater tandem cockpit with bubble canopy. Structurally, the Model 45 was much stronger than the Bonanza, being designed for +10g and -4.5g. The first military prototype, designated YT-34 by the USAF, made its initial flight in May 1950. After extensive testing, the first production T-34A was delivered to the USAF in October 1953 for evaluation, and deliveries to the Air Training Command began in 1954. The Mentor remained the standard USAF primary trainer until the introduction of the Cessna T-37 jet trainer in the late 1950s and 1960s. As they were replaced by T-37s, many T-34s, including the one on display, were turned over to base aero clubs. In all, the USAF acquired 450 T-34As. In total, for all variants of the T-34, over 2,300 were built in the United States and under license in Canada, Japan and Argentina.
The aircraft on display was one of 100 manufactured by Canadian Car and Foundry, Fort Williams, Ontario, Canada, under license by Beechcraft and was delivered to the USAF on March 31, 1955. It first served the 3306th Pilot Training Group (Air Training Command) Bainbridge AFB, GA and Spence AFB, GA before being transferred to the 478th Fighter Wing (Air Defense Command) Grand Forks AFB, ND in 1960. In 1962 this aircraft was retired from Air Force pilot training when it was loaned to the Grand Forks AFB Aero Club. In 1964 this T-34 was assigned to the Civil Air Patrol where it was operated by the Kansas Wing of the CAP until being sold into private hands ten years later. The original engine, a Continental O-470-4 of 225hp, has been upgraded to a Continental IO 520BB of 285hp. This aircraft was acquired by Jim Smith in 1989.