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The Plane

“This enduring warbird has become a sought after modernized machine providing tremendous capability with high reliability and low operating costs.”

How many at the Beech Aircraft Factory in 1954 could have imagined that 57 years later the new primary trainers they were building would still be flying, some worth more than the government paid for them at the time.  After a production run that lasted almost 9 years for the piston models, Beech turned out just under 2,000 of the A’s and B’s combined.  Other countries built the plane under co-production contracts and packaged kits.  The US Navy, Marines and NASA still operate the Turbine version (T-34C) for a variety of missions, including primary training, range clearing and chase plane just to mention a few.  Operators in South America such as Argentina, Chile, and Columbia still us the piston A’s and B’s for primary training purposes.  In fact the T-34A has been in continuous use somewhere in the world since the first unit was manufactured in 1953.  No other military training aircraft in history has seen 59 years continuous use by a military agency for as long as the Mentor has.  When future aviation history books are written, the T-34 may be named as one of the greatest aircraft designs of all time along with its GA brother the Bonanza.

Beechcraft, operators and owners owe the success of this timeless classic to one man, Walter Beech.  His visionary design of the Bonanza back in 1947 led to a revolution in the future design of all successive Beech aircraft models.  The Bonanza led to the Mentor, which led to the Twin Bonanza & Travel Air, and that led to the King Air & Baron series still in production today.  Since 1952 the US government has purchased more aircraft from Beech Aircraft Corporation than any other vendor.  The wing design and many components on a 2011 Bonanza, Baron and King Air are identical to those used in production of the Mentor.  Offers have been made to Beech over the years to buy the T-34 Type Certificate but have always have been met with decline because of this model commonality and desire to protect production copyrights.  This large component commonality has led to the ability to constantly upgrade and refine the T-34 over the decades.  Leading to what I call the “Millennium Mentor”.  Generally speaking this would be a fully restored piston powered T-34 A or B with all the latest modifications and upgrades.  Basically creating a 2011 piston powered T-34 with the performance of the Turbine T-34C and operational cost of a new A36 Bonanza.

Very few of the Mentors still flying are in original stock configuration.  Most of the planes have had powerplant upgrades to the Continental 520 or 550 engines and some of the latest restorations and upgrades are using the Continental IO550R overhead induction engine.  This latest STC’d engine conversion puts the aircraft in a new performance category.  The 550R engine is the same as that install in new Cirrus SR22 aircraft.  This engine produces 310+ horsepower and has a TBO of 2,200 hours.



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