T-28 Trojan Foundation

Huff'n'Puff T-28D Trojan VH-TRO is a genuine combat veteran.  It was built by North American Aviation in 1951 for the USAF.  In 1964 it was seconded to the CIA funded airline Air America for clandestine operations in Laos.
After the Vietnam War finished the aircraft was delivered to the Royal Thai Airforce where it was used for counter insurgency activities on the Thai - Laos border. In 1976 it was sold to the Philippines Airforce where it operated with the P.A.F. 1st Strike Wing based at Sangley Point. It was one of several T-28Ds used in the attack and failed coup attempt on President Marcos presidential palace. It was then brought to Australia in 1990 where it has been totally restored over a 12 year period and first flown again on 5th October 2001 by Kim Rolph-Smith.
Video posted by Planesounds with the warning, "If you are not a lover of the T28, it may be wisest if you leave now"  editors note:  If you've found yourself at this point, it's too late, you've been bitten by the T-28 bug!  Turn up the volume and enjoy the sound of the T-28 powered by a 9 cylinder radial engine.
VH-ZUK Mekong Moon in lead formation.  Photograph by Nathan Bowtell
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Trojans From Laos - The Story of the Australian T-28's
by John Wilkinson
Air Britain Digest Winter 2002

Two light grey T-28's with Royal Loatian Air Force insignia line up on Point Cook's runway 17.  Both pilots open up the 1425 Wright Cyclone radials to 47 inches of boost and 2700 rpm.  The lightly loaded aircraft are soon in the air after a 2000 foot ground run.  Gear up, they turn towards the flooded fields of the nearby sewerage works, known locally to the pilots as the Werribee Paddy Fields.  The scene is almost the same for these aircraft as 30 years ago when they were flying covert missions from bases in Laos by CIA-funded aircrew.

How the aircraft came to be two of 16 active service warbirds bought out of Laos and flying in Australia is a fascinating story.  However, the T-28's role in Laos is equally fascinating and much of the story still remains under cover.   The first T-28's were supplied to the Royal Laotian Air Force (RLAF) during the autumn of 1963.  They were supplemented with more during 1964 and a steady trickle continued until 1973.  All were T-28D's although there is some evidence that at least one T-28C was delivered to the RLAF.  The United States Air Force taught the Laotians to fly the aircraft from Udon Thani Air Base in northern Thailand and it is believed Air America pilots flew some CIA-funded missions using these aircraft during the mid-sixties.

It is known that Air America pilots did use the RLAF T-28's to fly search and rescue support missions looking for downed airmen.  However, the Udon Thani base was close enough to operate missions against the main North Vietnamese supply route - the Ho Chi Minh Trail.  This route extended through Laos and Cambodia and supplied men and arms to the Vietnam Cong guerrillas operating in South Vietnam.  The Ho Chi Minh Trail could, ideally, be attacked from bases inside Laos and Cambodia but an international agreement banned foreign military personnel from operating in Laos.  The way around this ban was to use Laotian and Cambodian aircraft flown on covert missions by US personnel operating as civilians.  Operations were controlled by the American Air Attaché based in Vientiane in Laos.

The T-28's were mainly used for destroying trucks where their slow speed and good maneuverability at low level made them ideal attack platforms.  Air America pilots flew these missions through the sixties, then USAF Raven forward air controllers used the aircraft between 1970 and 1973.  All the RLAF T-28's were fitted with six hard points under the wings and two 0.50mm machine guns, much of the modification work having been arrived out in the United States by Fairchild Hiller.  John Rayner, one of the Australian owners of the ex RLAF T-28's, has a copy of the modification card for this aircraft (VH-LAO ex 55-138320) which shows the work undertaken on the aircraft in both the US and Thailand before it went to the RLAF.  This aircraft was overhauled from a T-28B to an AT-28D-10 under contract number FO4606-71-C-0275.

The work involved fitting the bigger engine, adding armour plate around the cockpit and adding the hard points and guns.  It was prepared for shipment overseas at NAS Pensacola during October 1971 and the next entry is at Udon Thani where an aircrew escape system was fitted by Detachment 1 of the 56th Special Operations Wing.  The T-28 did not have an ejection seat in the normal sense.  It was fitted with the Yankee Extraction System which was basically a rocket attached to the pilots seat.  When the pilot wanted to get out of the aircraft, the rocket fired and shot him through the canopy and then the pilot deployed his parachute in the normal manner.  The reason why the pilot went through the canopy was that when it opened the screen frame obstructed the ejection tractors.  To attempt ejection with the canopy open would have cut the pilot in half.

It is interesting to note that this T-28 flew 697 hours between October 1971 and December 1973 when it was grounded due to a cracked lug on the forward right wing.  It was repaired at Udon Thani by the Thai Am Co Ltd, the organization which overhauled many Air America aircraft and the RLAF T-28's.  John Rayner's aircraft was photographed undergoing maintenance at Udon in this hanger.  Due to the low level operations, the aircraft were often thrown into high G maneuvers to avoid ground fire which weakened the wings and a number of T-28's were lost due to the wings coming off after manuevers to avoid ground fire.  These RLAF aircraft also had guide rails next to the national insignia to enable other markings to be slotted in for a particular mission.  Many of the missions these T-28's undertook were for the CIA and probably will never be revealed.  The detailed records for the T-28's that went to the RLAF cease when they left the US inventories.

After what was an adventurous life, the T-28's were withdrawn from service with the RLAF and the 16 aircraft destined for Australia were stored at Xieng Khouang airfield on the Plaine de Jarres in Laos.       
click HERE for the complete story
One such flight was a hair raising overnight freight run between Perth and Karratha through some pretty serious weather.  Chris also experienced something much more frightening when a Lancair IV he was a passenger 
in experienced an explosive decompression at 26,000 feet, taking the window on his side of the plane clean off.

In early 2013 however, Steve decided to purchase and import a T-28B Trojan from the U.S. for both father and son to enjoy.  The two made the long trip from Perth to Trudeau Warbird Enterprises in Punta Gorda, Florida, home base for Trojan expert, Jamie Trudeau who facilitated the purchase of the plane.  Under the expert tutelage of Mick Thorstenson, Steve and Chris began the multi-day process of checking out in the almost four-tonne 1425 horsepower beast.  Mick is a former US Navy pilot who has been in Trojans since his early days of flight school, he knows the aircraft well and really made sure the father and son team were up to speed before signing them off.  Chris was initially intimidated by the plane’s imposing size and speed.  His impressions during this process give an excellent picture of the Trojan’s complexity and capabilities. 

"I'd step up from fairly simple planes into a rocketship!”  The amount of power this thing has at idle is about as much as an IO-360 at full throttle.  The systems were also a bit overwhelming: canopy, speed brake, three different electrical buses, managing the supercharger, etc.  It really isn’t a plane to be messed around with.  Luckily Mick was on the ball and could answer any question.  The plane was so fast there were a million and one checks to do on a very short downwind.  “On my first hop I felt I was practically water skiing behind the thing!”  After 2 days of ground school and as he became familiar with the systems as well as several training sorties, his comfort level grew and soon enough he was AWAL’s newest qualified Trojan pilot!

Fast forward several months and the Robinson family Trojan is based at it’s new home at Perth’s Jandakot Airport.  Steve and Chris are enthusiastic and have in their brief time as warbird owners/operators been instrumental in organizing a successful general aviation Open Day there.  They are also sponsoring a trip for Jamie Trudeau to visit Australia, where by the time this is in print, he will have met with many of the T-28 community to share ideas on operating and caring for this much-loved North American trainer.  The two of them are sure to be a regular fixture in the skies above WA in their ex US Navy Trojan.  They’re proud warbird owners and we’re equally proud to have them as members of our ever growing AWAL community.  At 23 Chris is roughly the same age as most young men and women who enter military flight training.  It’s not that long ago that young men just like him, including his mentor Mick Thorstenson, were cutting their teeth on the Trojan. While we welcome anyone who is interested in warbirds, it’s especially heartening to see members of a younger generation getting involved like Chris.  Hopefully there will be many more like him.
article reprinted from aopa.au.com Jun-Jul 2014  Warbirds/Australian Pilot

Young Trojan
Mark Awad chats with AWAL's newest Trojan pilot

Australia’s warbird community is a diverse group; we’re made up of men and women from all walks of life and are a reflection of our country’s modern multicultural society.  However, like all aviation sectors, our demographics are skewed towards middle-aged and older individuals.  With the myriad costs associated with owning and operating a plane (not to mention the expense of flight training!) it’s no wonder that younger generations are finding it harder and harder to pursue apassion for flight.
For that reason, I find it very encouraging to see several examples of a love for aviation and warbirds in particular being passed on from parents to their children.  Chris Robinson of Perth, has been exposed to general aviation through his dad Steve,
which has led him to the front seat of their family’s newly purchased North American T-28B Trojan. Steve Robinson’s work demands have for years necessitated traveling quite a bit across western Australia from his home base in Perth.  He discovered early that general aviation offered numerous advantages over the airlines or driving and that flying was something he loved to do.  It was natural that his young son found himself in the right seat tagging along as often as he could.

In 2008, Chris began flight training and earned his PPL in January 2009.  From that time, he’s not looked back, gaining experience in numerous aircraft including TB10, Aerostar, Cirrus, Queenair, Robin and various Cessnas.  His initial exposure to warbirds came in the form of the much loved Nanchang CJ-6. With each flight, Chris’ appreciation and love for aviation grew as well.  He began to seek out other opportunities to fly, even just as a passenger. 

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SERVICE HISTORY: Converted from T-28A to T-28D by NAMCO, Columbus; to SMAAR, McClellan AFB, Sacramento, on September 9, 1968; delivered from McClellan to MAP/Laos, Udorn, on October 8, 1968, (but returned from MAP to McClellan on  October 8, 1968, so not delivered at that date); redelivered as 49001724 by SMAAR, McClellan AFB, to TL MAP.  USAF aircraft official C/N “49-1724”, maintained by Air America, Udorn, but flown under the command of AIRA, that is the USAF Attaché, Vientiane; current on 1 August 71, on 1 April 72 (List of assigned and maintained aircraft at Udorn of 1 April 72, in: UTD/CIA/B49F2), and still on 1 June 73 (List of assigned and maintained aircraft at Udorn of 1 June 73, in:UTD/Bisson/B5), bore the Erawan; based at Luang Prabang. 
FATE: Transferred to the RLAF in 1973; transferred to the Lao Air Force (Air Force of the Laos People’s Army) as “34??” in 1975; possibly one of the 29 former RLAF T-28s used by the Air Force of the Laos People’s Army to bomb Hmong refugees in the hills of Laos in 1976/7). Stored at Xieng Khouang airfield before 1984, until finally sold to Keith Death of Albury, NSW Australia in 1988; the aircraft was dismantled, trucked to Savannakhet and finally to Bangkok, and then shipped to Sydney in December 1988.   Registered as
VH-MEO in May 1992; painted in a grey Royal Lao Air Force color scheme.

 Photograph © Glenn Alderton / Warbirdz.net.au