A Naval Air Assault

written Monday, January 19, 2009
Rockport, TX

A virus of some sort is going through the area. What do they call it… a rhinovirus?? It’s cut a wide swath through the RV Park and about the middle of last week it finally hit the bus-house. Dar was it’s first and, hopefully, last victim. It’s not a bad cold, but it was bothersome she says. It settled into her chest and between a sore throat and occasional coughing fits it left her feeling a bit off kilter the past few days.

If you stay here at Sandollar Resort long enough you’ll eventually get used to being buzzed by the U.S. Navy. The Naval Air Station Corpus Christi is the place new pilots go for primary flight training. For some reason they use the Aransas County Airport, just down the road from Sandollar, to practice landings and other maneuvers. When they’re out in force there can be 6 or more planes in the pattern at the same time. For the most part they fly a plane called the T-34 Turbo Mentor, a plane built between 1975 and 1990 by Beech Aircraft. It’s a small, two seat, turbine powered craft that’s like the Energizer Bunny… it just keeps running and running and running. The newest one is almost 20 years old and still in daily use. Some of them are older than the pilots in training. In the next few years these old birds will be replaced by a new trainer, the T-6 Texan II.

From Fulton Day; Planes, Bikes & Birds

Having nothing else to do last Wednesday I took my bike and Canon Digital SLR over to the airport to get a closer look at what this Naval air assault was all about. It wasn’t hard to get where I wanted to go as there were no fences, gates, checkpoints, or anything to keep me from riding right onto the taxiway parallel to the runway they happened to be using. This is Texas after all, and here, in Texas, people pretty-much do whatever we want. There were a few people around and I half-expected someone to ask what the heck I was up to — but that never happened. There was this kinda-official looking pickup truck sprouting antennas with a military-looking driver parked in a way that suggested he had something to do with these planes — it had the letters RDO on the side.

During a lull in the action I walked over and struck up a conversation with the guy who I found out was the RDO — Runway Duty Officer — for the day. He indeed was there to keep an eye on these baby-pilots even though every trainer had an instructor on board as well. He watches for external problems with the planes, makes sure the landing gear is down for landing, and generally be that resource on the ground since they’re at an airport that’s not a Navy base.

He also told me the students that do the best in primary training are the ones that go into jets and aircraft carrier operations and all that glamorous stuff. The ones that don’t do as well are shunted off to drive bigger, slower patrol and cargo planes. I hope I didn’t mess up somebody’s scores by standing next to the runway with a big camera, They might be flying lonely patrol in Alaska instead of driving a sexy new jet fighter because they were distracted by some bozo in Rockport. Well, I hope not.

From Fulton Day; Planes, Bikes & Birds

Before heading back home I suggested to the RDO that if the Navy was looking for someone who’d take great care of a T-34 after it’s retired they could call and I’d make it easy for them. You see, I have a brother-in-law that flies and owns his own plane. And, best of all, he has a hanger that I think has just enough room to squeeze in a little ol’ T-34. We’d take great care of it, wouldn’t we Dave?

The day was clear and the wind was from the north which means they were using the runway approach closest to the RV Park. All that, coupled with the ease of getting onto the airport grounds, came together to allow me to catch a few neat shots of these old planes in action.


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