Photo by Stefan Seville
Ed Gunter speaks about the T-28 Trojan at the Warbirds in Review
Photo by Frederick A. Johnsen
A T-28 threaded the needle through its own smoke ring during
Tuesday’s air show.
July 30, 2009 - Oshkosh, Wisconsin
- In the 60th year of North American Aviation’s T-28 Trojan, pilots
including Bob Hoover gathered around a T-28D Wednesday to recall their
experiences with the radial-engined trainer-turned attack warbird.
The D model on display at the Warbirds in
Review sports ordnance hardpoints under the wing, reminiscent of the era
when T-28s flew combat sorties in Southeast Asia.
T-28 pilot Ed Gunter is a retired member of
the Ravens, a group of fliers recruited from forward air controllers (FACs)
to operate clandestinely in Laos under a program cryptically named “Steve
Canyon” after the then-popular daily newspaper cartoon strip.
All he was told about the assignment was that
“they got to fly the T-28, fire the guns, and drop bombs,” Gunter told
the AirVenture crowd.
“That was all I needed to hear.”
He volunteered in Vietnam the following day.
After receiving two days of indoctrination in the T-28—including
dropping ordnance—he was sent to Laos “with holy water sprinkled on me
as a T-28 combat pilot.”
Gunter said he quickly learned that the T-28
is “an excellent bombing platform.”
With evidence of unauthorized Chinese and
North Vietnamese presences in neutral Laos, the U.S. government chose to
insert American fliers in the country as well, Gunter said.
He recalled a “guppy” variant of the T-28,
so-called because it had a bulging belly carrying a photo reconnaissance
package from an RF-84 Thunderflash jet. Gunter was joined in the warbirds
discussion by Jack Drummond who described the wealth of ordnance the
modified T-28s could carry.
“If you were stupid, you could do 12 passes”
over a target, he recalled. “Not many people wanted to do this.”
Fliers and gunners alike knew the odds shifted
ever more in favor of the gunners when pilots repeatedly flew passes on a
Drummond recalled night sorties against trucks
on the Ho Chi Minh trail where he could see 90 miles ahead— and also see
the streaking tracer rounds arcing up from the ground toward whoever had
That was not of comfort to him as he motored
toward the hostile fire. He had to give credit to the North Vietnamese
gunners. “Those guys never gave up.”
Test pilot and air show icon Bob Hoover joined
the group plane-side and recounted the day he made the first flight of the
T-28B for North American Aviation (NAA) in the early 1950s. Media and
officialdom were waiting for a 300- 500 foot ceiling over the Los Angeles
home of NAA to lift before Hoover could make the triumphant first flight.
Hoover, who had flight experience in previous
models of the T-28, had already calculated what it would take to get a
lightweight T-28B off the 5,000- foot runway, retract and then instantly
extend the gear—and then land.
All on one pass down the 5,000 feet of
He could get airborne at 52 knots, he told the
attentive AirVenture audience.
With the ceiling hovering at 500 feet, Hoover
asked NAA President Dutch Kindelberger to protect him from the wrath of
Hoover’s supervisor, who didn’t want him flying with a ceiling under
With that protection in place Hoover made the
spectacular hop down the runway under a 500-foot ceiling—and so the
T-28B was initiated.
But that wasn’t Hoover’s only experience
with short-field operations in a T-28.
On a tour of Navy bases with the new T-28B,
Hoover spotted a 700-footlong aircraft carrier moored next to the runway
he was using. He requested permission to land the T-28 on the carrier and
have it craned off afterward.
When the admiral in charge balked at the
thought, Hoover opted for another demonstration.
That runway was 300 feet wide—not long—and
Hoover landed the T-28B across the pavement.
“I got it stopped before I got to the other
side of the runway,” Hoover told the crowd, although he did need to taxi
into the grass to turn around, so precise was his landing.
What did Bob Hoover think of the T-28? “I
enjoyed every minute of flying it,” he told the AirVenture crowd.
Following the presentation, visitors thronged
around Hoover to shake his hand, reminisce, and ask for his autograph.
Hoover, ever the gentleman, graciously obliged, as did fellow pilots
Gunter and Drummond.