BEECHCRAFT T-34B MENTOR
NAS Pt Mugu, Oxnard, California
This plane holds a great deal of sentimental value, as this was the aircraft in which I learned how to do aerobatics. To give pilots additional flight time -- and to keep us non-pilots happy -- NARU (Naval Air Reserve Unit) Pt Mugu, our parent reserve organization, instituted the "morale flight" program. We were taken up and flown around the area and up and down the coast at wave-top level and pretty much anything else we wanted to do, all in this little red-white-and-blue beauty. One day Chief Fitzgerald, our Maintenance Control Chief, looked at me with a wry smile and said, "Duncan, you look like you could use a little morale." Before he could say, "Grab a flight suit . . . ," I was dressed and out the door.
The pilot on my flight asked me if I had ever flown before, and I told him that I had been flying for years. He asked me if I'd ever done any aerobatics, to which I replied, "No, I'm afraid not." Smiling into the rear-view mirror, he promptly walked me through two of the basics -- the loop and the barrel roll -- and then turned the stick over to me. My first barrel roll was a complete disaster, as I was sure there had to be rudder movement involved, which ended up with us in a heaving, twisting tumble through the air, my helmet (with head inside) bouncing off the plexiglass canopy. "That didn't come out quite right, did it?" he calmly asked, once I got us righted again. After a refresher on keeping the rudder inline, the next ones were picture perfect. The rest of the flight had us looping and rolling high above the hills of Malibu, before finally dropping down to buzz bikini-clad Malibu beach on our way home. Talk about a boost to morale! That's one flight I'll never forget.
Those are my squadron's (VP-65) Lockheed SP2H Neptunes in the background.