AVSIM Commercial Aircraft Comparison Test

Carenado’s T34A&B Mentor
AlphaSim’s T34C Turbo Mentor

Image Credit: Gareth John, Carenado’s T34A/B on the left and AlphaSim’s T34C on the right

Product Information

Publishers: Carenado and AlphaSim

Description: Add-on aircraft – FSX, DirectX10, Beechcraft T-34 Mentors.

Download Size:
31.1 MB - Carenado T34A/B
105 MB - AlphaSim T34C

Format:
Download
Simulation Type:
FSX, SP1, SP2, Acceleration
DirectX 10
Reviewed by: Tom D AVSIM Staff Reviewer - December 24, 2008

Introduction

Just in time for the Holidays we have a pair of Beechcraft T-34 Mentors, an A / B model from Carenado and a C model from AlphaSim. AVSIM reviews them to let you know what works, what doesn’t and why you probably want both of these aircraft in your virtual stocking.

The Beechcraft T34 has always been a favorite amongst enthusiasts. Combining the clean lines and fine flying qualities of Walter Beech’s design team with aerobatic performance and pseudo Warbird status makes the Mentor an interesting and useful addition to any collection, whether a multi million dollar hangar full of real aviation exotica, or residing on a hard disk drive and having fun with your friends in multiplayer sessions.

The T34 Mentor

Walter Beech believed his revolutionary Bonanza would make a great training platform for a simple, cheap, military trainer back in 1948. The military has never cared for simple, light and cheap and had just placed a big order for T28’s and had lots of T6’s. Beech built three demonstrators with his own funds that eventually flew off against the Temco T35 Buckaroo (built off the platform for the Swift). The winner became the Air Force’s T34A of which 350 were built for the Air Force and another 100 for the Canadian Air Force. Eventually the Air Force replaced these with jet T-37’s.

Under the rules of the day, the Navy would have had to pay half the development cost of the airplane if they took the A model, so they removed the nose wheel steering, a fillet from the tail below the rudder and modified the fuel system to feed from both main tanks simultaneously. There were 423 B models built. The Navy replaced their B models with the ultimate T34, the T34C model.

The T34 “Charlie” is powered by a 715 horsepower free turbine PT6 built by Pratt and Whitney. A “free turbine” is a turboprop where a jet engine is on a separate shaft. This “gas generator” effectively blows on a power turbine that has a direct output shaft to the propeller. The fact that the gas generator and prop rotate independently makes it a “free” turbine. In fact, you can have your buddy hold the propeller still while starting and running a PT6!

In flight, the C model is really a different airplane. The Navy decided 400 horsepower was plenty and installed a torque limiter. Weight increased from a maximum of 2,900 to 4,300 pounds and the wing received beefed up parts from Beechcraft’s Duke cabin class twin. Additional fuel was required and the weight and balance of the airplane shifted considerably with the lighter turbine engine. Despite a longer nose to balance things out, the aircraft’s stall and spin performance was “disturbing.” Strakes were added to provide additional longitudinal stability and nose down push during stall recoveries. Also a rudder pedal shaker was used to warn pilots of stalls. A 5,500 pound strike version was even built with Mk 81 bombs, a gun, or rocket pods.

The T34’s export history is voluminous. Aircraft were sold and built by Canadian manufacturers and flew in Argentina, the Philippines, Peru, El Salvador, Turkey, Ecuador and Spain. T34’s were Japan’s first military airplane and the Japanese developed the type into a 340 horsepower LM-2, KM-2 and T-3’s, which were still in production in the 1980’s.

T34’s we can fly

T34’s became popular in the civilian world as many of the parts were interchangeable with the ubiquitous Bonanza’s. Engines and systems were upgraded to the latest and greatest available in the general aviation marketplace. With these modifications the Mentor became faster, longer ranged and more capable of high G aerobatics.

Unfortunately, the additional power and speed, combined with years and years of hard use, began to catch up with some T34’s. Three had in-flight break ups while being used in mock dogfights. While the majority of Mentors are prized personal possessions which are flown in a conservative fashion, those rented to folks off the street for supervised mock combat experiences regularly saw more stress and use than those in the overall fleet. In a related issue, the Beech Barons that lent their structure to the T34’s wings were being used to haul cargo every night with two big Continental engines twisting the forward spar. Cracks were observed near the forward spar’s structure in the heavier, twin engine, application.

When the T34’s had inflight break up losses, the investigators initially went straight to the known issue with the Baron’s wing spar attachment area. It is my opinion they overlooked the fact the loads are completely different and in fact there were other reasons for the structure’s failure. This is not the place for that debate, but the result of the FAA’s uncertainty was some draconian restrictions and inspection requirements that all but grounded the T34’s.

None of the non-commercial T34’s had any problems and in the airshow circuit, Julie Clark and Lima Lima have well shown the airplane can be responsibly operated with complete safety. Lima Lima’s, Julie Clark, as well as Pat Epps act in his F33C, are beautiful acts that are worth the trip to see.

T34 Aerobatic Teams – See more at: http://www.americanaerobatics.com/v3/site.html

Publisher’s Descriptions of their Products

Carenado’s T34

ONLY FOR FSX. Beechcraft Mentor T34-b. DEVELOPED ONLY FOR FSX. SUPPORTS SP2, ACCELERATION PACK and DX10
- New FSX features: external dynamic shadows, internal dynamic shadows on VC, normal mapping, specular mapping and bloom lights
- Polygon optimized model
- 3 variations: Metallic, Navy and FAE (NEW!) - two-places – Single engine – Tandem seating trainer- Two versions: 2 and 3 blades - Registration N9220T and NAVY 0256
- Amazing aerobatic model with many details and realistic textures
- Interactive virtual cockpit
- Full moving parts – Moving pilot, full animated cockpit doors and cargo, ailerons, elevators, rudders, flaps, rolling wheels, smoke effects, navigation lights, beacons, strobes, landing lights
- Realistic nightlight effects on cockpit - Transparent windows
- 3D modeled dynamics pilot and 2 available virtual cockpit areas - Real Propeller
- Many details as: pitot pressure chamber, antennas, cargo compartment objects
– Realistic textures and original Mentor paint design - Custom panel and gauges - Old IFR certification (ADF) and VFR
- Nightlight effects on panel - Full checklist and reference text about the Flight Dynamics and Performances
- Realistic performance based on Beechcraft´s documents and experimented Mentor’s pilot observations...and our own experience on real flight and MFS - Similar behavior compared with the real airplane
- Real weight and balance
- PDF documents with information - 1 and 2 person on board - And many…many details

AlphaSim’s Turbo Mentor, T34C

- full FSX model available with all FSX features (bump mapping, self-shadowing, bloom etc)
- FSX model includes V-C self-shadowing (effect requires FSX SP2, Vista)
- both front and rear cockpits fully modeled and flyable (no rear cockpit in FS2004 model)
- AlphaSim VLE (Visual Load Editor) interface used to toggle wheel chocks, pilots, canopy and exhaust covers and blind-flying hood
- HIGHLY authentic virtual cockpit with animations and mousable controls
- audible switch clicks
- FULL systems modeling in accordance with NATOPS manual, high level of user interaction in VC
- very realistic VC night lighting, separate illumination for cockpit flood and instrument faces
- several new and innovative special features which will inhibit normal operation if procedures are not followed
- visual and audible tire damage when braking procedures not followed
- canopy fogging effect if procedures not followed
- quality sound set, approved by US Navy student pilot
- detailed and illustrated 160-page PDF manual
- realistic pilot figure with user-input anims
- authentic flight dynamics
- includes AlphaSim 'REALGAUGE' technology :
all VC gauges are 3D models with compete 3D working parts such as needles, flags etc;
all gauges are fully mousable with switch parts all working correctly;
'RealGauge' provides - prefect smooth operation, high FPS, extremely crisp appearance; and
all gauges have custom nighttime illumination
note - 2D panel is not needed, a 'minimal' bitmap is however provided

Having fun using FS Recorder to fly aerobatic routines with dissimilar aircraft

Installation, Documentation and additional info

Test System

EVGA 680i Motherboard
Intel E6600 Clocked at 3.0 Ghz
2Gb DDR2, linked at 1.3Mhz
GeForce 8800 GTS
RAID 0 Configuration
Microsoft Vista SP1 & Accel
Flight Simulator FSX SP2
Vista SP2

Flying Time:
22 hours

Installation

Both products are available for download from their publisher’s web sites. The Carenado product downloads as BE300X, a 34Mb zipped folder, while the AlphaSim AS_T34C_FSX zip file is 105Mb. Both products find and install in your Flight Simulator X directory with no problems and no requirement that you edit your .cfg file(s).

Documentation

The Carenado T34 installs with documentation in your Microsoft Flight Simulator X/SimObjects/Airplanes/Mentor folder. Carenado's artwork in his manuals are first rate and would stand out on the shelf in a retail boxed version. Included are several PDF files including guides on:
- T34 History, 5 pages
- Cockpit Guide, 15 pages
- Checklist, 22 pages (includes some procedures and maneuvers information)
- Performance, 28 pages (with what appears to be scanned charts from the Air Force's T34 data)

The AlphaSim documentation, located in your Microsoft Flight Simulator X/AlphaSim directory, is a 160 page volume consisting of:
- Overview if the Sim and Features
- Cockpit guide
- Simplified systems descriptions
- Limitations
- Procedures
- Maneuvers Training
- Emergency Procedures
- Performance Charts (which appear to be NATOPS manual data, or similar)

Both products ship with nice manuals and it really isn't fair to pass over them without much comment. We'd surely miss them if the manuals were not present, but since this isn't a book review, lets go fly!

Cockpits

Both of these aircraft are FSX models, designed to be flown from a Virtual Cockpit. Fortunately, this works pretty well. Yes, they have 2D cockpits, but using them pretty much negates the reason for buying these new models to begin with. AlphaSim has made their old FS9 T34 as freeware. That is a pretty strong statement when they feel their new FSX product is different enough to be well worth paying for.

Carenado's T34 is configured accurately for what must be an early A model T34 which was modified from its original specification. Today these airplanes have been updated with modern avionics, so your first reaction to this cockpit is “how do these guys know where they are at?”

I'm not a fan of Carenado’s placement of the magnetic compass, as it obstructs your line of sight. The Navy's T34B mounted the magnetic compass high in the panel, where the EGT gage (NAVY spelling, not mine) is placed. The Hobbs meter and G meter were also located down in the panel. I've not seen a similar gear and flap indicator in any aircraft, post WW2. But I’m picking nits and Carenado's source material might have referenced some bizarre instrumentation that was specific to a particular airframe.

I would have preferred the Navy Spec been followed and its placarding. It would have been completely acceptable to install modern avionics in the panel, like the publishers of “ Acceleration” decided to do with their P51 models.

The panel has hood lights, which do not appear to function in Carenado's modeling. But, the panel is nicely lighted by its cockpit flood lights. The engine instrumentation and radio functions all work just as they do in the real world. The instrument textures look plenty good enough when a realistic zoom setting is used and I find myself scaling back as much as possible to enjoy the view and when flying formation, to keep eyes on my flight lead.

The Carenado panel works well for what you will want to use this airplane for; day, VFR, sightseeing, aerobatics and multi player formation flying. The cockpit has self shadowing and the canopy reflects light and scenery when using FSX in DirectX 10. The instrumentation loads instantly when switching views on my computer and I encountered no stability issues with any of the gauge files.

Carenado’s T34 Cockpit

AlphaSim's T34C cockpit is an entirely more complicated place, just as the T34C model was an entirely more complicated aircraft. When you first load the aircraft you hear what sounds like the power inverter (or beacon motor). Features like placards that were blurry texture files in the Carenado model are detailed, legible and functional in the AlphaSim cockpit. Systems like auto ignition, fire test selector, control lock and cockpit environmental controls work. A warning light and annunciator system works realistically. The functioning Angle of Attack indicator and indexer are particularly appreciated. You can even do an emergency gear extension (although half turn required to extend is about 30 turns easier than it should be).

This superb level of detail makes the features that are not quite right even more annoying than they otherwise would be. After all, if you are 97% of the way to perfection, why stop short? Particularly when some of these discrepancies are items that AlphaSim has added on just to be different.

For example, the environmental control system. When you climb through clouds the canopy freezes up, blocking your vision until you defrost the canopies using the environmental system. Some folks must think this is neat since AlphaSim went out of their way to program this feature. However, you'd have to be in severe icing to get this frosted up, that completely, so quickly. My canopy iced up even when operating in conditions well above the conditions required to accumulate ice. When you are trying to hold a perfect slot position to get some formation shots for a review, the last thing you want is a frozen canopy.

Another gripe is the Condition Lever. In the real aircraft, the Condition Lever (middle handle in the throttle quadrant) controls fuel flow for engine start. The red lever behind the Condition Lever is a lock to prevent pulling the Condition Level back past its fuel cutoff position in flight, which would shut down the engine. The Condition Lever, basically regulates propeller governor function and should be able to command the propeller to its streamlined, feathered position. I was unable to get the T34C's propeller to feather. This feature works correctly in the default Caravan with a similar Pratt and Whitney PT-6, why not here?

Other almost trivial complaints continue to the NACWS (sort of a militarized version of a Traffic Alert and Collision Avoidance System), which is not functional yet and the T34's KLN900 GPS is the FSX default Garmin 500 series set up. These minor flaws don't annoy me much.

What you'll like is the Real Gauge technology which renders the instrumentation in 3D and the cockpit night lighting. The gauges are lit internally and you have the option of turning on or off both your floodlighting and instrument lighting individually. Despite the high resolution textures and 3D rendering, I did not see much, if any, impact on frame rates which remained in the mid 20's on my system. In other words, AlphaSim has given you the best of both worlds using this Real Gauge Technology.

The quality of the reflections in the cockpit and canopy glass are nice features you'll really enjoy, the gear handle knob is opaque so you can see the switches for the landing lights, a nice touch, thanks AlphaSim.

AlphaSim’s T34 Cockpit, be sure to notice the 3D instrumentation and clear detail up close (I forgot to turn on the GPS)

AlphaSim also includes a “Lite” model that lacks a rear cockpit to maximize sim performance. I saw very good frame rates on my system (19 to 28 FPS average with most features on their highest settings) with either version, but AlphaSim's thoughtful inclusion is likely a benefit for those whose Flight Sim experience can be frustrated by computer hardware limitations.

Flight Models, Dynamics and Sound

Both models of the T34 fly very nicely. Both have well coordinated controls and react as they should for given control displacements. Both fly off, stall and land at correct airspeeds, with the C model being a 10 to 15 knot faster maneuvering airplane due to approximately 1,100 pound higher weight. Both require right rudder with the application or power, most particularly at slower speeds.

Carenado's T34 appears to be more representative of the 285 horsepower IO 520 conversion, than the 225 Horsepower original. It is fast for a T34! This would not be as apparent, except for the fact that sometimes the T34C model has a hard time keeping up in the climb! Engine performance is otherwise modeled accurately enough to use real T34 planning charts. The Carenado T-34 has that responsive yet gentle feel that makes vintage Beechcraft pilot friendly airplanes. Carenado’s folks somehow captured that big Teledyne Continental flat six engine sound … you might think you smell AvGas!

Carenado’s airplane bleeds speed at higher G and angles of attack realistically.

AlphaSim's T34C is a faster airplane and a better cross country machine. It has far better vertical penetration when performing aerobatics and has more power than the A/B model aircraft. The C model also has a more sophisticated cockpit and sound package adding to the feel of operation.

FSX airplanes tend to exaggerate the spool up time of turbine engines and free turbine turboprops are the worst. The AlphaSim T34 does not break from this tradition. The result is an airplane that is difficult to hold in formation. A faster engine/propeller response time would make the AlphaSim T34 much easier, and more realistic, to fly. This is a shame because the AlphaSim product begs to be flown with other aircraft.

The model’s fuel burn is way off with the gauge often pegged at 500 pounds per hour, or more. This is 200 to 300 PPH too high.

One unique effect AlphaSim included is an ability to overheat the brakes and cause tire failure. In FSX this is remarkably easy to do, since the typical throttle arrangement has no ability to pull the propeller back into fine reverse pitch, called “Beta mode.” Without use of Beta Mode, a sim pilot ends up using a lot of brake to slow the T34.

Fortunately, AlphaSim modeled a screeching noise to warn the pilot of impending damage, allowing you to get off the brakes before the tires are shredded. After a while you get used to reaching down and pulling the “Throttle” past idle, back into Beta, to slow down. The sound file for Beta sounds neat too. Pilots of turboprops in real life seem to use Beta like motorcyclists like to rev their engines, just to hear the noise.

Also while in “Beta”, the rudder’s effectiveness is realistically diminished, neat!

Aircraft Models, Textures

Carenado's T34 A/B is wonderfully modeled. The gear doors are textured and the down-locks work. Even the oil cooler is right where it should be in the right side cowling inlet. I had forgotten about the push-in doors on the gill cowls for fire extinguishing, they are there.

One terrific feature is fully operational trim and servo tabs. The real T34 had these tabs to reduce aileron forces and increase rudder forces. The pitch trim works just as it does on Beechcraft Bonanza's. For many students, these servo and anti-servo tabs were the introduction to “big airplane” flight control systems and even aircraft as large as the Navy's C-9B use variations on the control tab theme to manually power their flight controls.

The near perfect lines of the T34 are shown off particularly well by Carenado's “Yellow Navy” model. Interestingly, this aircraft has a three bladed propeller which was a popular addition on the IO-520 powered Mentors (see a trend here?). In air to air work, this was always the model I kept returning to, just to enjoy the view. The polished canopy rails, anti glare paint on the nose, chrome spinner, stenciling and air show smoke capability just made this airplane irresistible to your reporter.

But, in other ways the textures let this model down. For starters, the rivets would need to be the size of nickels or quarters to stand out like they do in the textures, this is not realistic. Back when these early Mentors were built, they were built by craftsmen who were building some of the premier business aircraft of their day. The engineers mixed rivet types, using flush rivets wherever possible to reduce drag and round head rivets where required for strength.

Looking at the textures, it is obvious the artist spent time studying these rivet patterns because several obscure cross stringers are correctly represented, but then, the fuel tank filler is placed smack dab in the middle of the wing spar! In reality, the spar itself is directly visible on T34's and the leading edge attaches forward of this spar along a lengthwise piano hinge. Ideally, you could remove the leading edge as an assembly by simply pulling the pin out of this hinge. The fuel cells were completely forward of the Spar (and almost all Beechcraft of this vintage had a gradual shift to a more aft center of gravity as fuel was burned).

The textures included in the package include a bare metal T34 (appears to be an A model), a partially bare metal model and the aforementioned Yellow Navy livery.

Beautiful Aircraft, great detail and easy to fly in formation, but why is there a fuel tank in the middle of the wing spar?

Although I really dig Carenado's A/B model, AlphaSim's T34C is the king of the eye candy contest. The aircraft appears to have 3D gear doors, correct for the stiffeners used to support the outer skins. This ships in the orange and white NAS Whiting training scheme, as well as a black “Grim Reapers” paint, a Miramar “Sharpshooter’s” theme, and export models such as Morocco’s desert camouflage scheme, Peru’s grey “if it ever crashes, the villagers will carry it away on goats and we will never find it scheme” and NASA’s Flight Research Center’s civilian paint. I particularly like the Marine Corps “Miramar” paint, but all are outstanding.

Frank Safranek gets the credit for much of the textures. These textures are crisp, properly show the rivet patterns and hardly ever show a bad angle. He has even thought to include the aircraft's drain ports. The aircraft itself models details such as the belly venturi tube, and through the clear wing tip lenses you can see the brackets for the strobe and position light. At night, the cockpit lighting reflects in the canopy rails these details are first rate.

Additional textures are available on Frank Safranek's web site for the AlphaSim T34C and are well worth the download and AlphaSim/aircraft.cfg file edit. You can find these at http://mirage4fs.com/Alphasim/

Additionally, the AlphaSim T34C has a editor that allows you to install chocks, engine covers, a pitot cover, canopy cover, remove the pilot or instructor figures and even install hoods for instrument flying. Neat features.

But again, why did they stop at 95% of perfection? AlphaSim did not model the trim, servo or anti-servo tabs. I'd rather have working flight control tabs and feathering propeller than exploding tires and a canopy cover, maybe that's just me.

AlphaSim (just gorgeous textures)
Carenado (note the working servo tab, I like that!)

Summary / Closing Remarks

Both of these models are tremendous values. Carenado's T34 A/B is priced at $19.95 and for the price of a large pizza you get an entirely more satisfying and longer lasting experience.

AlphaSim's T34C Turbo Mentor is priced in New Zealand Dollars, which have been fluctuating considerably with the US Dollar. Currently the price is $37.09, but I've seen everything from slightly more than $30 to nearly $40.

With either product you are going to want to practice your formation flying. There is an excellent shareware application called FS Recorder which allows you to record a flight and play it back as AI Traffic. You can grab it here: http://www.fs-recorder.net/ and throw the author a few bucks via Pay Pal. If you want this sort of fun, you have to support it.

Bottom line, support your hobby, buy both T34’s and fly them together!

My history with the T34’s

(disclaimer – if anyone reads this and decides that this recount broke a rule of any flying club, the DOD, or an insurance underwriting restriction, this flight is a combination of many years of flying different T34’s under different owners and my own aircraft. I always respected the rules and taught students to do the same. If you think I broke your rules – it was in the other guy’s airplane!)

My history with the T34 goes back to my father who flew the type in his Air Force flying club. Approximately 23 years later, I gained a few hundred hours in the Navy’s version and after a ten year break, participated in the safety investigations and resolutions of the losses associated with several of the earlier models. I’ve helped rebuild a couple of these and still remember most of the part numbers used in their assembly.

Let me introduce you, as I would a student, to the T34B and run through a routine training flight. You climbed into the airplane holding a handle near the bottom of the rear cockpit and some used foot wells on the side of the fuselage. Swinging your legs over the canopy rails, the T34 feels more like a fighter than the C182 sitting across the ramp with the same engine under the cowling. There was no pretense of trim, or finishing of the interior although the seats were comfortable. In fact, the Navy removed the nose gear doors and when the gear was extended, the holes for the rudder pedal linkages allowed a view of the ground! The exhaust fed into huge collector tubes which were just forward of your feet.

As the engine caught, you could feel the percussive grumble of the Continental 470 cubic inch engine in its dragster like idle. (hot rodders always thought this was due to a super high performance camshaft, in reality it was due to the lifters leaking down, uneven compressions and fuel mixture disparities, but I always let them believe their wildest performance dreams were about to be exceeded) The T-34 sounded good!

After following the lengthy NATOPS checklist with pride and precision, driving the airplane out to the runway was done using differential brakes for steering. With any application of throttle, the engine would smooth out into a beautiful flat six purr that put my Porsche 911’s German motor to plebeian shame. Average pilots used too much braking, a good pilot used rudder deflection and bursts of power to maintain the centerline without putting so much wear and tear on the consumables. The Push to Talk and Intercom switches were on the throttle, again making this a comfortable airplane to fly and instruct in.

Sometimes you would lose your student on taxi out. One minute he’d be there, the next minute WHOOMP and he’d be gone. The seats had a pull out pin for height adjustment and if you were not braced and anticipating the weight of the seat, you’d literally fall to the bottom of its travel. Pulling yourself and the seat back out was hard to do gracefully.

On takeoff roll, a good amount of rudder was required to maintain centerline until airflow over the vertical stabilizer increased its effectiveness. At night the strobes were sequenced and the landing lights made the view even more interesting as they reflected off the pavement and increased the feel of speed.

The T34 shared the Beechcraft Bonanza’s high angle of incidence and a high lift / low tech wing. The wing spar was beefed up using a part from a BE55 Baron on the A&B models and later a Duke spar on the C model. The airplane lifted off the runway with just slight back pressure and would have been difficult to hold on the runway once speed built up to around 80.

The original airplanes tended to run hot in the climb, with oil temperatures pushing the redline. Most of us pulled the power back to 25 inches and 2,500 RPM, or 24 / 24 and accepted a 500 FPM climb at 100 miles per hour to keep the engine cool. Our aerobatic practice area was about 30 miles away, so a cruise climb seemed to keep the controllers (who wanted your slow airplane out of the way of the heavy transports) happy. Surprisingly, the F15’s and F16’s with their big wings were relatively slow in the downwind and if you were flying fast, you could maintain the pattern with the fighters.

Later, civilian modifications put larger 285 Continental IO520’s on the T34 which made it climb closer to 1,500 to 2,000 feet per minute while burning nearly the same fuel (due to high compression & induction efficiency) and keeping cooler. The military went the more expensive route of foregoing reciprocating power all together with a super reliable Pratt and Whitney PT6, which has intervals between overhauls as long as 15,000 hours, compared to the Continental engines which were overhauled at less than 2,000 hours on average.

In cruise, the stock Mentor was only a 125 to 140 knot airplane. It flew in a nose down attitude, giving an unequaled view. The airplane’s control harmony, the balance of roll, pitch and yaw effort on the controls was just beautiful. The controls are mostly push rods and roller bearings, providing a smooth and precise feel. The airplane had servo tabs to reduce roll effort and a anti servo tab on the rudder to increase effectiveness and effort. These are the sorts of touches that make Beech airplanes so much more satisfying to fly when compared to other light aircraft.

Trim was available in all three axis and I never flew one with an autopilot installed. Like a fine sports car, it wasn’t a vehicle you wanted to engage the cruise control in. The only junk in the controls was a bungee cord the FAA mandated to meet Part 3 Certification standards. The spring like cord tied the rudder to the ailerons to roll the airplane into rudder inputs. As a result, it was awkward to get into uncoordinated flight with the Mentor.

Occasionally on cross country flights, I’d roll the airplane while maintaining course and altitude. Barrel Rolls required a good bit of initial pitch up, around 20 degrees, to be level coming out of the maneuver and I’d dip the nose slightly to pick up 140 before starting the pitch up. Once I was even “intercepted” by members of VF204 in their F18’s. I maintained straight and level while they rolled, looped, and did burner passes. It turned out they were en-route to the same airshow I was and after seeing NAVY markings, figured they’d drop in, we all had fun. Those sorts of things only happened to me in the T34.

Once established in the practice area, a couple of 90 degree turns cleared the area of other traffic. The gyros were then turned off to avoid damage (a $3,200 replacement back then). The T-34 was a fine airplane to perform formation flying and “gentleman’s aerobatics.” Chandelles and flying through canyons in the clouds was beauty in its most raw and direct form. No drug comes close.

The NATOPS manual provided brief instruction with entry speeds, but rolls started at 125 and loops at 140 to 150 worked out well. Usually you keep the power up all the way through every maneuver. The T34 had a lot more drag than the civilian Bonanza and you could point the nose at the ground without exceeding limits. Rolls to the left were slightly quicker due to the engine’s torque and during wing over maneuvers, opposite aileron would keep the maneuver clean. Stalls were more aggressive than the nearly identical Bonanza’s due to the lack of stall strips exciting the airflow.

Snap rolls and spins were easy to exit, as the wing would start flying easily, but the airplane really did not have the power to execute vertical maneuvers unless you worked to carry a lot of speed in. The wing also worked against you in any negative G maneuvers, although the airplane had an auxiliary oil tank which would provide oil while inverted.

Our practice area was near an airplane enthusiast who maintained a grass landing area and somehow he got the government to donate old airplanes to his care. Often I’d learn whether my student was familiar with his “farm.” If the student was unaware, I’d give him his “simulated engine out” just as we were exiting the practice area (and sometimes it was a nice break for those who were airsick).

While the student looked for a suitable landing patch, the T34 came down from altitude fairly quickly, especially if the canopies were open and adding the drag of those two holes and air scoops. The big Continental would pop and backfire as unburned fuel ignited in the exhaust. Clearing the engine added torque and leading questions would help orient the student and the airplane in the right direction. Eventually, the student would locate the grass strip with delight at his discovery and I’d say “land.”

Before landing on grass, it is a good idea to do a low pass and look for hazards such as muddy conditions that can stick your gear, wildlife and even lawnmowers. I’d give the student back the power and let him enjoy the low pass while I ensured we’d be able to get in and out safely. We’d land and I’d retrieve a couple of Cokes and sandwiches from my flight bag to enjoy while we wandered around the oddball collection of rotting airplanes out in the middle of nowhere.

There were always good lessons to tech students on grass, about using the yoke to lift the nose and take stress off the landing gear; about the basic characteristics of the airplane at low speed and in the real environment where it matters. I once landed a Bonanza on a riverbank, taking a NTSB investigator to a remote crash site. I’d have never tried that if it had not been for all the practice in the T34’s up at the “farm.”

The T34 was a throwback to a day when most of Walter Beech’s customers lived on grass strips. A high lift wing with a high angle of incidence was perfect for making the airplane easy to land and take off. Beechcraft studied the high tech laminar flow wings and discovered they only increased performance by three or four miles per hour, but they had poorer stall characteristics, required more runway and were difficult to build correctly. As a result of this pragmatic decision the T34 was repeatedly picked over its competitors.

On departure the T34 was a surprisingly good short field airplane with partial flaps. We could be airborne in as little as 400 feet if we were light. After a quick cruise to the base, we would request an overhead break and the option. Flying mid field at full power the drill was to roll to a 90 degree bank chop the power and use pitch and G to slow the airplane. The wing got really inefficient when you were asking it to support three and a half Mentors and it would bleed speed back to the gear limit speed. As soon as the gear handle went down the “cool” pilots tossed the canopies back and maintained idle from high key around to landing, using flaps as necessary to add drag.

The T34 was a remarkably high drag airplane on final. With the gear, flaps and canopies all open and out, it could take nearly full power to maintain level flight and eek out a climb on a go around. We investigated several instances where pilots got behind this power curve and stalled the airplane into the ground short of the runway. Surprisingly the worst offenders were fighter pilots who felt at home in the T34, but who failed to appreciate that the Continental engine lacked the power of a pair of after burning F404’s.

In the “option” was a low pass, just keeping the power up would result in around a 200 knot pass. As the airplane entered ground effect it was necessary to push the airplane towards the runway to maintain altitude. At this speed and at 2,600RPM the tips of the propeller would exceed the speed of sound, reducing propeller efficiency and making all kinds of noise. The zoom climb at the end of the pass could easily break the local airspace limitations. A local strip club opened a nude outdoor car wash at the end of the runway. The enticement (and distraction factor) for young pilots resulted in the “low pass over the strip club” maneuver being restricted – although we blamed on the Army helo pilots for our problems. They would simply hover over and enjoy the view.

Over the years I had the unique opportunity to fly the T34 as a photo platform for air to air photography, some of which has made into books. Perhaps the most unique flight of this type was leading a formation of aircraft including the T-35 Buckaroo which the T34 beat in the competition for the initial Air Force contract. One last characteristic of the T34 is that it could be very difficult to start after flying as the heat under the cowling would boil the fuel in the lines over the engine. The T35 actually got tired of waiting for me and left with a gaggle of Swifts in formation.

You will probably read that there are no C models in civilian hands. This is true now, but there was a C Model flown out of Peachtree DeKalb airport in Atlanta, GA in a hangar near my employer’s. This airplane was lost as a result of running it out of fuel (and the PT6 easily burns more than twice the gas).

My impressions of the C model was that fine pitch reverse angle on the propeller (called Beta range) was important to keep the PT6 from running away with the relatively diminutive T34. The engine instruments were all standard PT6, same as you might find in an early King Air. Your fly the airplane with the Power Control Lever and you hear the engine spool slightly before the propeller, then the propeller governor starts to increase blade angle to maintain a constant propeller RPM. The sensation is like blowing the propeller – which is in effect how a free turbine works. With this much power the airplane is nearly flying before you get the power fully set. The C model lost some of the fine balance of the B model with the ailerons being lighter and the elevator being heavier.

My time in the C model was very limited and I never got to stall or spin the airplane to see what those issues were. But flying aerobatics was nearly the same, you’re just going 20 to 30 knots faster most of the time and jet fuel lacks the aroma of avgas. Due to the speed and heavier elevator, it uses more trim than the A or B models and just feels bigger than it is.

The C model never caught on in the civilian world due to its prohibitive expense of ownership. The military loved the reliability and durability of the PT6 engine. For civilians, the C Model cost the same or more money to own and operate as a P-51 Mustang and well, what would you buy?

 

What I Like About These 2 Mentors

  • Best aircraft model – Tie
  • Best textures – AlphaSim
  • Best cockpit – close, but AlphaSim wins
  • Best flight model – Tie
  • Most fun – it’s really a tie
  • Best add on aircraft priced like a large Pizza & a Coke – Carenado’s T34
  • Best Add on aircraft priced like a dinner and a movie – AlphaSim’s T34C
  • Best tool to enjoy the maximum abilities of these models for a small contribution … FS Recorder, or Multiplayer

 

What I Don't Like About These 2 Mentors

  • AlphaSim’s blown tires and frosted canopies … fixing the propeller is a higher priority
  • Lag in the AlphaSim’s T34C’s engine spool up time
  • All the junk on the dash on Carenado’s T34A/B – if you are going to put stuff on the glare shield, make it a Hula Girl … A G reactive Hula Girl is a great idea!
  • Fuel tank in the middle of Carenado’s T34 Wing Spar … what’s holding the wing on?

 

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T34 Mentor Comparison

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