T-28 Trojan Foundation

T-34 ATC Pilots of the 3303rd PTG
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The eyewitness testimony quoted here is taken from United States Air Force Accident Report 55-6-16-5, obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.      http://richardriis.com/2013/12/21/lt-bill-gmelin-1932-1955-usaf/
Helen Murphy © 2009-2016   All Rights Reserved
An investigation and hearing into the crash were conducted in the weeks that followed. The investigation’s conclusion:
“The cause of this crash is undetermined. The imprint of this aircraft on the ground at the point of impact and dispersal of the debris indicates that the aircraft struck the ground in a near vertical dive and exploded upon impact. There was no radio call from the crew and no evidence of fire in flight either from nearby eyewitnesses to the explosion or from examination of the empenage. The attitude and speed of the aircraft is believed to be the only key to the accident cause. Either fouled primary controls or misuse of controls through disorientation or other such factors are the only apparent conjecture possible. The extent of distortion of the aircraft and engine left little chance of establishing whether or not there had been a mechanical malfunction. There was no foreign object likely to have fouled controls found in the wreckage.” 

Bill’s dog tags were recovered from the debris field; there were no identifiable remains.  His son Peter Gmelin was born on July 13, 1955.
William Jay (Bill) Gmelin was born in New Rochelle, New York, in 1932, the only child of bank accountant William Julius Gmelin and his wife, Mildred J. Thomas. Bill married fellow New Rochelle native Mary Jane Butler, an elementary school art teacher, in his senior year at Dartmouth University. After graduation in the spring of 1954 Bill entered the Air Force.

In June of 1955 Second Lieutenant William Gmelin was a student pilot in the 3307th Pilot Training Group at Marana Air Base near Tucson, Arizona, with 97.25 hours of flight time. His wife, Mary Jane, was 8 months pregnant with their first child.

“Lt. Gmelin appeared perfectly normal in all respects on the days preceding and including 16 June 1955.” – Richard H. Bruns, 2nd Lt., USAF

“Lt. William J. Gmelin was in my car pool and I was the one who drove on 16 June 1955. Lt. Gmelin was in his usual good spirits that day. As I recall he had gone swimming that day around noon time and that was not unusual fatigue for him as he went swimming whenever a P.T. period permitted. He made no unusual comments to me that day and from all that I witnessed it was just an ordinary flying day.” – James W. Sorensen, 2nd Lt., USAF

“The first flight of the day, June 16, 1955, didn’t commence until approximately 1445 hours, as the first two planes assigned to us had to be written up. Lt. William J. Gmelin flew on this first flight with [civilian flight instructor George] Jones and they didn’t return until approximately 1630 hours at which time I went up for a fifty minute dual ride.” – James W. Sorensen, 2nd Lt., USAF

“I was on tower duty on the night of June 16, 1955, with Mr. Bushman. Mr. Jones flew the first flight of the evening in aircraft #313 on a dual navigation mission. Take off time was 1942. When he returned he was instructed to park #313 on the regular row.” – H. H. Samuels, Flight Commander

“To the best of my knowledge and memory, Lt. Gmelin was in his normal good spirits and physical condition on 16 June 1955. He possessed his normal confident manner and appeared to look at this flight as just another flight. When Mr. Jones and I met him at the aircraft he was ready to climb in. Lt. Gmelin said he had performed the pre-flight check except for the lights. I checked the lights while Mr. Jones pre-flighted the aircraft. Lt. Gmelin got in the aircraft and performed his cockpit checks. Lt. Gmelin started the aircarft, signaled chocks out and rolled out to the runup area in a normal manner.” – Ralph D. Brown, 2nd Lt., USAF

“[Mr. Jones] was assigned aircraft number 636 for dual local with Lt. Gmelin, this takeoff time was 2243. They remained in the pattern and completed four touch and go landings then departed for the area orientation in the area. His last pitchout call was made at 2313.” – M. J. Bushman, Senior Instructor (Tower Operator)

“Tower records and all other evidence indicated that the aircraft… was at or above 5000 feet when trouble of an undetermined origin occurred. No radio call was made by the aircraft.” – Jack l. Selling, Operations Officer

“I had taken off from Davis-Monthan AFB at 2310 MST and was climbing to altitude over the field. On one of the circles when approximately three miles south of D-MFAB, I noticed a brilliant flash north of Tucson. I noted the time to be 1135 MST.” – Lyle A. Geer, Captain, USAF

“While on the way to work at Arizona Public Service Company, Saguaro Plant, 4 miles south of Red Rock, on the night of June 16, 1955, about 2 miles south of the plant I was watching the large amount of planes in the air, and someone remarked about it. Suddenly I noticed a large flash of light which was almost blinding. The approximate time was 11:30 PM. After the flash this light burned very bright….” – Lawrence J. Davies "

"I was driving a truck for Time Freight Lines, Inc., on Thursday night, June 16, 1955, on my way between Phoenix and Lordsburg, New Mexico. Between Picacho and Red Rock, Arizona, I saw a plane flying at a low altitude, approximately 150 or 200 feet and it had its wing and tail lights on. About 60 seconds or so later it crashed and exploded and began to burn.” – Lee T. Hendricks

“I was riding to work on the night of June 16, 1955, seated in the rear seat, and I was looking across the desert into the darkness when right before my eyes I saw a terrific ball of fire rise up from the ground. … I saw nothing before I saw the countryside light up by the ball of fire. On reaching work I checked with the Phoenix dispatcher and then called the flight commander at Marana, who informed me it may have been one of their planes.” – Gerald W. Parks

“Flying dual in aircraft #641 with Lt. Adkins, we were dispatched to investigate the crash. At the scene of the crash there was considerable fire. The desert brush was burning an area about 500 feet or more long and 150 feet wide. The aircraft was burning in about four or five different parts in an area of about 50 feet circle.” – Roy Elder, Instructor Pilot

“I saw a flaming mass and then almost instantaneously an explosion. My instructor, Mr. Elder, reported the crash to the control tower, and they dispatched us to the scene of the crash. We were told to stay there and inform the tower on anything we could see. … We directed the crash crew to the scene by talking to the tower and they relayed our directions to the crash crew. We also used our landing lights to give them the general direction of the crash.” – William K. Adkins, 2nd Lt., USAF

“On the night of the 16 we were coming to work at the Saguaro Power Plant. … When the plane hit it made a very bright flash and the fire leaped a great distance into the air. The flash didn’t last very long, but when we got to the plant I went to the top of #2 boiler and there was still a good size fire. About 1:00 AM I noticed some headlights going out to the fire. At daybreak we could still see smoke out there.” – Charlie Goitia

2nd Lt. Bill Gmelin (2nd from right) and flight instructor George Jones (center) pose with members of the 3307th Pilot Training Group alongside aircraft 7636, the plane they were flying on the night of June 16, 1955.
Marana Air Base, AZ 1954-55  3307th Pilot Training Group
3306th PTG T-28A's

61 - Delta Bainbridge, GA
"You can fly, but now we're going to make a military aviator out of you."

In November, 1959 the Air Force had civilian contract primary flying training bases. Bainbridge and Spence Air Bases,
Georgia; Bartow and Graham in Florida; Malden Air Base in Missouri, and Moore Air Base, Texas. When we arrived the skies were filled with airplanes. We would soon be in them, and actually flying.  At these bases a group of highly experienced civilian flight instructors would:

1.  Show us new uses for our flight caps.
2.  Convince us we had no business operating any kind of machinery, let alone something with a whirling propeller.
3.  Regale us with war stories the like of which we now occasionally tell.
4.  Show us what precision aviation was all about.
5.  Shape us into fledgling air force pilots.

We were joined here by the USAF Student Officers and twenty Allied Nation classmates from Turkey, Venezuela, Pakistan, Iran, Ethiopia, Germany, and Bangladesh. 

Quite a few of our brothers did not advance from pre-flight. The "want-to" weeding out process had cut our numbers considerably. The change from a military base to small civilian contract schools was designed for a sudden change of emphasis from things military, to flight discipline. Primary would weed out more who did not have the necessary skills or who could not conquer airsickness. And still more S.I.E.'s. The Moore AB Yearbook quoted what proved to be the whole class motto;  "For many are called, Few are chosen...."

I had never been in the cockpit of an airplane, and since I'm left handed, I wondered about the left hand drive version of the Link trainer, and eventually the airplane. My very first visit to the Link cleared that up. Left hand...throttle, right hand...that stick thing between your legs.  One version fits all, prepare to become ambidextrous, or else.  Climbing into the T-34 cockpit the first flight was like climbing onto a bucking bronco in that we had no idea what was going to happen next. The transition from simulation of flight to actual flight was exciting to say the least.  We prepared for the first flight as much as possible. Academics taught us the aircraft and its' systems. The "Link" sessions simulated the flight. We practically memorized the Dash-1. My roommate and I spent hours in the aircraft giving each other "blindfold" cockpit checks. We knew where every switch and gauge was located while blindfolded. We also memorized and tested each other on all checklist and emergency procedures.    ==  We were ready to fly!  ==

My first T-34 flight with a kindly old silver haired instructor named Mr. Earl Lucas.... was a real awakening. I was doing pretty well through his aerobatics, (probably a mild shade of green) until Mr. Lucas started his descent to RTB. It involved doing what he called "clearing turns", making certain another aircraft was not directly under us and out of view. Suddenly we were inverted, going down at a 45 degree angle, rolling back and forth from one wingtip to the other as fast as the T-34 would roll. Well...tear off the earphones and get ready for a new c--t cap...cause this one found that new use.

It is said that anyone with good vision and reasonable coordination can be taught to fly given time. However here the name of the game was "you don't have much time." Some say it was like trying to get a drink of water from a wide open fire hydrant. We were in a crash course of academics, military training, sessions with the "Link ladies" and physical conditioning training in the unique style of "Coach Hardee". As if this were not enough, now we were learning how to fly. We were now learning what they meant by "Every man a tiger!"

To help motivate us we had to wear our baseball flight caps backwards until our first solo. We rode the D'ville bus each day to the auxiliary field for T-34 flights (unless we took the first flight). We received about 9-10 hours of flight instruction in the venerable Beech T-34 "Mentor" primary trainer aircraft. Then our instructors told us we were ready to solo. And we did. If you didn't solo before 15 hours, you wouldn't do it in the air force. With tight syllabus training schedules to keep...slow learners were history quickly.

Three new things happened here. Check rides, Pink Slips, and Elimination rides entered our vocabulary. Suddenly the solo rides of boring holes and sight seeing turned into actually practicing stalls, spins, chandelles, cuban 8's, lazy 8's, Immelmans, cloverleafs, loops, rolls, etc. Not only were they teaching us to fly, they were going to evaluate everything we did in the process. Every dual flight brought tight critique and grading on check flights was critical to continuing. The expected standards were high...unattainable for some.

Twenty more hours of instruction, solo and check rides in the T-34 prepared us for the ride of our life. Our first flight (dollar ride) in the T-37 "Tweety Bird" jet trainer. We were among the first bases to use these noisy little jets. Farewell to canopies that could be open in flight, mixture settings, rpm settings, inches of throttle and magneto checks.

Well, not all of us got to fly jets just yet, some of the bases still were using the propeller driven T-28 "Trojan" as the second primary trainer. They were caught in the Air Force's transition to the all jet force. The T-28's were the last primary non-jet trainers. Their Wright engined machine (800 HP) pushed them to around 280 mph, but sounded like the world's noisiest tractor. As for the "tractor drivers" (we all knew the T-28's were manufactured by International Harvester, or was it John Deere?), they probably became better pure stick and rudder pilots due to the power and torque of the T-28. However we did feel they exaggerated that point just a little with their "spot landing" challenge. In either case, if you could fly the T-37, or the T-28, you knew you were a pilot. In all we logged about 30 hours time in the T-34 (logging 88 landings in my case). In the T-37, we loggedabout 65 hours dual, 35 hours solo, with a total of 203 landings. We packed up with about 130 hours total time in our logbooks. Leaving primary we were told: You can fly, but now we're going to make a military aviator out of you.
T-28 Spot Landing!
To make us appreciate the safety and dependability of the B-25, we were sent aloft in the T-28, at the time the Air Force's newest trainer.  It's engine sounded like a garden tractor and could be depended on to go to pieces at any minute.  Everyone felt like a test pilot when he flew the machine.
Revitalized Pilot Training Program
The 1952 plan called for converting the PA-18s and T-6s, beginning with the introduction of the T-34 in April 1954, with the retirement of the Piper Cubs and T-6s to be completed by July 1956. Student pilots would then fly the T-34 in light plane screening and the T-28 and its successor, the TX (ultimately the T-37), for the rest of primary. Specifications called for a side-by- side, two-seat trainer with an average speed of 330 miles per hour, tricycle landing gear, and a minimum endurance of two hours in the air. The T-33 and its successor, the TZ jet,
would be used in basic flight training. Air Force officials  planned the high performance TZ (ultimately the T-38) to have tandem seating and be capable of speeds in the Mach 1 range (600 miles per hour).  On 21 January 1954, FTAF (Flying Training Air Force) announced that the change out of the T-34 for the PA-18 would begin on 18 June 1954 with Class 55-P. The switch actually happened earlier than planned, and the school at Marana, Arizona, began using the heavier and faster T-34 on 11 May with Class 55-M. With the switch, FTAF increased flying time in the light plane screening portion of primary to 40 hours (12 hours in the pre-solo phase, 22 hours of contact proficiency, and 6 hours of aerobatics). In addition to screening trainees for fear of flying and airsickness problems, the T-34 had an additional advantage over the PA-18 in that it could more adequately screen for flying deficiencies since its curriculum included acrobatics like Immelman loops, slow rolls, and barrel rolls. The command wide switch from the PA-18 and T-6 to the T-34 and T-28 didn’t occur until August 1956 when the school at Bartow Air Base in Florida completed its conversion.     http://www.aetc.af.mil/shared/media/document/AFD-061109-020.pdf  pg 24

Spence-Air-Base.com - Training, aircraft, memories
Bartow Air Base, is a former United States Army and later Air Force base.  It was closed in 1961. Today, it is known as Bartow Municipal Airport. The current facility houses a museum displaying an extensive photograph collection of the Air Training Command.

In 1950, the U.S. Government exercised its reversal clause for the facility taking control of the airport. Renamed Bartow Air Base, the installation served as a USAF primary flight training facility for the Air Training Command (ATC) from 1951 to 1960 when the Department of Defense needed civilian contractors to man and operate primary pilot training schools for U.S. Air Force student pilots.  Designated the 3303rd Pilot Training Group (PTG), they operated the T-6 Texan, T-34 Mentor and T-28 Trojan, training both commissioned USAF officers and USAF aviation cadets. More than 8,000 men graduated from primary flight training at Bartow AB before proceeding on to select air force bases for advanced training in aircraft such as the T-33 Shooting Star for jet pilots or the TB-25 and B-25 Mitchell for multiengine pilots.  Notable graduates of primary flight training at Bartow AB included astronauts Colonel Edwin E. "Buzz" Aldrin, Jr., Lieutenant Colonel Edward White II, and Colonel Karol J. Bobko, as well as former Assistant Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force, Lieutenant General Thomas G. McInerney and the first graduate of the USAF Academy to achieve 4-star rank, General Hansford T. Johnson. Garner Aviation was the successful bidder on the first Air Force training contract and operated the facility until 1955 when they lost the bid to Truman Miller. Miller ran the training school until 1960, when the Air Force discontinued the contract primary pilot training concept and began phasing out T-34 and T-28 training in favor of the USAF Undergraduate Pilot Training (UPT) system that was being put in place at larger air force bases that could readily accommodate the T-37 and T-38 Talon jet trainers then coming on line. Bartow Air Base was gradually deactivated as a USAF facility throughout 1960, with the City of Bartow incrementally gaining control of more and more of the facility. USAF operations officially ended in 1961 and the facility was totally transferred to the city once again by the GSA.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bartow_Air_Base
With the Korean War in high gear, the Air Training Command contracted with civilian pilot training schools to instruct primary flight training to new cadets to meet wartime demand for pilots.  Between 1951 to 1960 over 7000 pilots per year went through the Pilot Training Group (PTG) program conducted at nine selected air bases:
Bainbridge Air Base, Georgia - 3306th PTG
Bartow Air Base, Florida - 3303rd PTG
Graham Air Base, Florida - 3300th PTG
Hondo Air Base, Texas - 3304th PTG
Malden Air Base, Missouri - 3305th PTG

Marana Air Base, Arizona - 3307th PTG
Moore Air Base, Texas - 3301st PTG
Spence Air Base, Georgia - 3302rd PTG
Stallings Air Base, North Carolina - 3308th PTG

T-28A from the 3303rd Pilot Training Group, Bartow Air Base, FL circa 1956.   Note the original high canopy, the lack of the black exhaust stripe on the side of the fuselage and the Air Training Command insignia on the tail.   Photograph on display at the Bartow Municipal Airport Museum, Bartow, FL.  Photographs courtesy of Douglas H. Bartley.