6 August 2014 | Fall River, Massachusetts. Sometimes, if you are a former museum professional, and you are on a ‘road trip’, you push yourself hard – just that ONE more museum, that last gallery, that rare object – and you end up extending yourself until exhaustion sets in. My good friend David Lee (Imperial War Museum) and I were like that when we arrived at Battleship Cove, Fall River, Massachusetts. For David this was the last leg of a round-the-world tour of aviation museums. Before I delivered him to Logan Airport we had just this one museum to visit. We were certainly not disappointed by any means! Although the main focus of Battleship Cove remains the impressive fleet of assorted warships, there was still plenty to satisfy two aviation specialists.
Here we can see a very nicely preserved North American T-28C which has been placed on a platform, close to the Charles M. Braga Jr. Memorial Bridge over the Taunton River. Originally, the North American T-28 was designed to fulfill a USAF requirement for a new basic trainer to replace the venerable T-6/Harvard/SNJ family of aircraft from the same company. The new ‘conventional’ low-wing monocoque aircraft, with retractable nosewheel undercarriage, was powered by a seven-cylinder Wright R-1300-1 producing 800hp, and driving a two-bladed propeller. Full-scale production started in 1950, just as the Korean War broke out, and the new trainer was taken into USAF service as the T-28A Trojan. During the Korean War, a new policy of standardization’ was agreed between the United States Navy and the United States Air Force, in an attempt to speed production and induce economies of scale. Consequently, the Navy issued changes to suit its own operational requirements for the new trainer; a nine-cylinder Wright R-1820 radial drove a three-bladed Hamilton Standard constant-speed propeller, and for the first time there was a gunsight and gun camera fitted and a full range of underwing stores, including gun-pods, could be carried. Further changes, including the strengthening of the rear fuselage and incorporation of an arrester hook, allowed another version – the T-28C – to be used by the Navy for the important task of the carrier qualification of pilots. The extra power from the big Wright radial gave a impressive increase in maximum speed, from 285mph in the T-28A to 346mph in the T-28C. When production of the T-28 finally ended in the autumn of 1957, no less than 1,948 had been built.
Other specialized versions of the T-28 were converted from surplus airframes, and the best known of these was the T-28S Fennec, modified and used by the French Air Force in their colonial wars in Africa, and the T-28D Nomad, modified to a specification created by the USAF’s Special Air Warfare Center for the COIN (counter-insurgency) role, and used by the USAF and the South Vietnamese Air Force during the Vietnam War. The T-28D aircraft were usually operated as single-seaters in the light attack role. A true ‘attack’ version of the T-28 was modified by the Fairchild company as the Fairchild AT-28D; 72 of these were produced and flew missions in South East Asia during the Vietnam War.
The T-28C you can see here is painted as USN/137765, a machine assigned to Training Squadron 27 (VT-27), also known as ‘The Boomers’, a unit whose job included the carrier qualification of new USN aviators. Other markings indicate that the unit was based at Naval Air Station Pensacola, a base which has trained many thousands of naval aviators (including Fleet Air Arm trainees during WW2). If you look closely, you will see that there are the names of two pilots inscribed beneath the two cockpits. The rear cockpit bears the name of Commander ‘Linc’ Mossop. Commander Lincoln Mossop Jnr, USNR (Ret’d) (class of ’56, at the US Naval College, Annapolis) was a prominent supporter of the National Naval Aviation Museum, NAS Pensacola, and was also one of the very first ‘corporators’ of Battleship Cove, Fall River. The name beneath the front cockpit is that of Captain Thomas Hudner, MoH, USN (Ret’d) who won his Medal of Honor flying an F4U Corsair in Korea, when he crash-landed his aircraft alongside the blazing wreck of a Corsair behind enemy lines and tried to rescue another member of his squadron. Captain Hudner was a native of Fall river, Massachusetts.
The T-28 might have been conceived to undertake the mundane task of the basic training of pilots, but it emerged as an import COIN aircraft in two major wars and countless other skirmishes (for the T-28 Fennecs were sold on by France to countries such as Argentina, and they were also used by Morocco, Uruguay and the Philippines). Today, you can still see T-28s as worthy ‘warbird’ performers at airshows in the United States and throughout Europe.
Just in case you might be willing to dismiss the T-28 as a staid performer, when the Fennecs were withdrawn to Metropolitan France after the Algerian War was over in 1962, they were issued to training and secondline defence units, and it is a matter of record that a Fennec claimed a ‘kill’ on an ‘opposing’ Dassault Mirage IIIC during air exercise ‘Carte Blanche’ in 1963 – and had the gun camera footage to prove it!
An avid writer, photographer and former member of the Royal Air Force (RAF), Ross Sharp serves as the Director of Engineering and Airframe Compliance for The People’s Mosquito and Deputy Air Show Coordinator of the RAF Finningley Air Show. He provides 20th Century Aviation Magazine readers unique perspectives on topics relating to British aviation.