North American T-28 "Trojan"
by Ken Karas
(Pilot qualifications for operating a civilian T-28 are available here.)
The T-28 “Trojan” is a two-pilot, tandem seat, radial engine-powered aircraft designed and manufactured for the United States Air Force and Navy by North American Aviation (NAA), the company behind the T-6, B-25, P-51, F-86, F-100, XB-70 and the Apollo Command Module. It was primarily used as an advanced trainer, although variants saw combat in the Vietnam War as well as other locales for other countries. The T-28 was in service with the US military until the early 1980s and after that date with the militaries of several foreign countries. A total of approximately 2,000 were manufactured from 1948–1957.
The Trojan is powerful and sophisticated, has beautifully balanced controls, a large, extremely well laid out cockpit, outstanding visibility and excellent handling. It is an honest airplane with no unusual flight characteristics. The T-28 is a joy to fly and attracts a crowd wherever it goes. The sound of its 1,425 horsepower engine (all models except the –A) exhaust flowing through its tuned exhaust system is one of the most distinctive and evocative of any of the large engine propeller airplanes produced in the 1940s and 1950s.
The T-28 was one of the most advanced propeller aircraft ever designed. Most had 9-cylinder, 1,820 cubic inch radial engines with a two-speed supercharger, tricycle gear, hydraulically actuated crew canopy, speed brake, landing gear, landing flaps, and speedbrake, a backup high pressure nitrogen system for emergency opening of the canopy, a heater and cockpit ventilation system, and a large capacity oxygen system. The Trojan, with a 41’ wingspan and 32’ length is about the same size as the World War II-era Republic Aviation P-47 (and in flight tests compares favorably to the most popular WW II fighters).
The T-28 was developed in 1948 and made its operational debut in 1950 as an advanced trainer for the United States Air Force (USAF). The aircraft was conceived as a replacement for the venerable North American T-6/SNJ/Harvard (T-6). The T-6 had served as the advanced trainer for the Allied air forces in World War II, but with the advent of the jet-age was considered obsolete by the USAF. The T-28A was intended to approximate the “feel” of the newest jet fighters, most notably the North American F-86 Sabre, and, in fact, the cockpits of the two aircraft are very similar.
Several variations of the T-28 were manufactured: the –A operated by the USAF, the –B and –C operated by the USN, the Fennec (fr. “Desert Fox”) operated by the French air force, and the -D, operated by the USAF during the Vietnam War.
The –A (USAF) had an 800 horsepower Curtis Wright, R-1300 (1,300 cubic inch), 7-cylinder radial engine, a two-bladed prop, a steerable nose wheel and no speedbrake. The –A had a maximum indicated airspeed of 254 knots (292 mph), a fuel capacity of 125–177 gallons, depending on the model, and a service ceiling of 31,000 feet. 1,194 were manufactured. The –A served the USAF from 1950–56 when it was replaced by the Beech T-34 Mentor.
The –B (USN) was a substantial redesign of the –A and incorporated a stronger airframe, a Curtis Wright R-1820 9-cylinder radial engine generating 1,425 horsepower, a three bladed prop, and a castering nose wheel. It also carried 177 gallons of fuel, had a service ceiling of approximately 37,000 feet and a maximum indicated airspeed of 340 knots (391 mph). The T-28B entered service in 1954, with 493 being manufactured (according to statistics supplied by Boeing, which ultimately acquired NAA), and served the USN until the early 1980s (it began to be retired in the mid-1970s).
The –C (USN) was essentially a –B designed to withstand the rigors of “trapping” on an aircraft carrier, with a strengthened air frame, a tail hook , and shorter (but wider) propeller to reduce the chance of the propeller striking the deck when the landing was arrested by the cable and tail hook. The T-28C entered service in 1954, with 299 being manufactured, and served the Navy until the early 1980. It began to be retired in the mid-1970s.
The –D (also known as T-28D-5, T-28D-10, AT-28 and the “Tango”) were –A, –B and some –C models converted by NAA and Fairchild Aviation for service in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War. The aircraft had all the features of the –B plus armor plating, armament (there are three hard points on each wing to which 50-caliber machine gun pods, bomb pods and/or rocket pods could be attached), self-sealing fuel tanks, a stronger main wing spar, and an extraction seat (Stanley Aviation Yankee Ballistic Extraction System). 393 –D's were converted.
The –D was flown extensively in combat both in Vietnam early in the war for close air support and later in the war was used extensively in Laos primarily in ground attack to interdict supplies flowing south on the Ho Chi Minh Trail. In Laos it was flown by Laotian mountain people known as the Hmong. A group of USAF forward air controllers (FACs) known as the Ravens and stationed in Laos also flew the T-28. Their story is fascinating and references are provided below.
The Fennec (T-28S to the French and T-28F in the U.S.) were also –A models modified for the French Air Force for use in counterinsurgency operations in what was then the French colony of Algeria. In 1959 the French approached the U.S. about acquiring –B models, but the U.S. declined. The French then hired a company called Pacific Airmotive to modify several –A's to their specifications, which included armor, the Wright R-1820 engine, a three-bladed propeller, and armament. The Fennec did not incorporate a speedbrake. These were sent France, after which a French company, Sud Aviation, used them as a template to convert approximately 140 –A's into Fennecs. After the conflict in North Africa was concluded, the French sold them to several developing countries including Mexico, Argentina, Cuba, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and the Congo, where a number of them participated in further combat.
The U.S. Navy began phasing out the T-28B and -C’s in the mid-1970’s, with the last ones being retired in the early 1980’s. Many of these aircraft were “mothballed” at Davis-Monthan AFB in Tucson, AZ.
In the 1980’s the civilian community in the U.S. began to acquire T-28s from the U.S. military. Notable contributors to the introduction of the T-28 into the civilian community were David Clinton and John Harrison, who, through Darton International Corp., provided outstanding aircraft-specific training modeled on the military approach and established training protocols for formation flying in the aircraft. Pride Aircraft (Rockford, IL) and Victoria Air Maintenance (Victoria, BC, Canada) specialized in restoring and refurbishing the T-28 and aircraft restored by them are sought after. There are approximately 350 T-28's registered with national aviation authorities around the world, with almost 300 of them in the United States.
Civilian operators of the “Big engine” versions of the T-28 (all except the –A model) typically obtain a range of about 600 nm. The aircraft typically cruise at a true airspeed of 200 knots (232 mph) at 10,000 to 25,000’ MSL, and in the cruise configuration of 26–28” MAP and 1,850–2,000 rpm they burn about 45 gph. The aircraft ignition systems have been adjusted to allow 100LL avgas to be burned instead of the 130 octane leaded fuel originally specified.
Since the mid-2000s two professional flight demonstration teams have flown the T-28 at air shows. The Trojan Horsemen perform a six-ship, modified Blue Angel routine and have performed in cities and military bases throughout the U.S. and Canada (http://www.trojanhorsemen.com). The Trojan Phlyers perform a two-ship aerobatic routine in the southwest U.S. (http://www.trojanphlyers.com).
"Navy Pilot Training Today", Air Classics, Vol. 9 No. 2, Feb 1973
For further information:
For further information about the history of the North American T-28 please refer to the following web sites, which provide their own list of references, including to several books that are devoted to the T-28:
- Further information on the T-28:
- Further information on the Yankee Ballistic Extraction System:
- Further information on the T-28 in Southeast Asia:
- Further information about North American Aviation