For a small mountain facility, Tehachapi Airport has long been home to many interesting aircraft. One of these is the beautiful 1955 Beechcraft T-34A Mentor owned by Ron and Paula Alldredge.
This aircraft and about 1,200 others like it were used by the Air Force and Navy as trainers, to teach aviators to fly. It was in these planes that young servicemen first took to the sky. The Air Force used them from 1954 to the early 1960s, while the Navy flew them from 1955 to 1975. The design is based on a 1949 V-tail Beechcraft Bonanza, though the T-34 does not have a V-tail.
"The Air Force used this particular plane from 1955 through 1959, then gave it to the Indonesian Air Force, who used it for the same purpose until 1987," Ron explains. "After sale to a private buyer it came back to the states and was eventually restored. We bought it in 2006, ten years after it came out of the restoration shop. We use it for pleasure flying and the occasional airshow, as well as formation work with other T-34 owners for parade flyovers, memorial services and other events."
Ron has long been a pilot, having first obtained his license in 1973. He spent his career in the Air Force, maintaining military aircraft. Ron worked at Edwards Air Force Base beginning in 1988, and he got the opportunity to fly a T-34 owned by the Aero Club at Edwards AFB. He and Paula enjoyed the experience of being in the T-34. "With the glass canopy, it's got such a great view all around," Paula said of the two-seater plane, "The visibility is exceptional."
When Ron retired from the military in 1993, the Alldredges moved to Tehachapi because they wanted to have their daughter Beth attend Tehachapi schools. They decided they'd like to own their own plane, so they started looking and were able to find their T-34 up in Oregon.
Ron and Paula use the T-34 for pleasure trips, like any other aircraft owner, but they also take it to airshows, and one of their biggest joys is showing the plane to military veterans who first learned to fly in one.
"Air Force and Navy veterans will come up to us and say that they learned how to fly in a T-34 just like this," Paula said. "Seeing one up close briefly turns a 70-year-old man in to a 22-year-old."
The Palm Springs Air Museum hosts an annual gathering of the approximately 20 West Coast T-34 owners. It was at one of these fly-ins that a man with a cane approached the Alldredges and their T-34.
"I haven't sat in one of these since 1957," he told them. Ron and Paula helped the aged veteran, a retired Air Force cargo pilot named Bruce Walker, get in the plane and took some photos for him. A few months later, Ron returned and took Bruce up in the air for his first T-34 flight in more than 50 years.
Ron also gives rides to youngsters who are interested in flight, and it is a staple at Civil Air Patrol events held at Tehachapi Airport.
The T-34 typically cruises at about 150 miles per hour, and can fly for about 3 hours at a time, using 12-14 gallons of aviation gas per hour. The Alldredges have flown it back to Wisconsin for the annual AirVenture Oshkosh event, which attracts more than 10,000 planes and their pilots every year.
An experienced and able pilot, Ron often flies the plane in formations over parades and memorial services, and has been part of aerial groups that included as many as 20 planes, and in one instance at Oshkosh, a staggering 58 of the T-34 planes flying in formation.
The Alldredges derive great enjoyment from their unusual 65-year-old plane, and spend much of their free time involved in aviation. "This is our lifestyle," Ron told me. "My work provides for our life — home, cars, etc. — and Paula's work provides for our lifestyle -- the plane." Paula adds "We feel like we're caretakers of this time machine."
Have a good week.
Jon Hammond has written for Tehachapi News for more than 30 years. Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.