A small, dilapidated plane once used to train Navy pilots during the Vietnam War era was moved by flatbed truck Wednesday from Naval Base Point Mugu to the Camarillo Airport, where it will get a new lease on life as a teaching tool for high school students.
The result for all involved was "Mission Accomplished."
The long-dormant T-34B, which gathered moss and dust while sitting at the naval base since 2001, will be used to teach high school students about aviation and auto body repair. The transfer of the old-school, two-seater was made by the Ventura County Office of Education, the Ventura County Sheriff's Office and the Navy base working together.
Students in the office of education's career center at the airport will learn the history of the plane — the model was once used by the likes of war hero and U.S. Sen. John McCain and countless astronauts — and will restore the exterior from top to bottom.
Larry Hanson, a retired senior deputy, helps transfer a T-34B plane from Naval Base Ventura County Point Mugu to the Camarillo Airport on Wednesday. At left is Dan Seibert, a service technician with the Ventura County Sheriff's Office of Emergency Services.
"I am amazed," said Diallo Wallace, an aerospace engineer at the base and a teacher in the career center's aviation and engineering programs, as the plane was hoisted by forklift onto a sheriff's office flatbed truck for the 8-mile ride to the airport. "I can't believe it."
It traveled uneventfully up Las Posas Road, past agricultural fields, on its slow-speed drive to the county airport. Its wings had to be removed for ease of transport, inadvertently creating another learning opportunity for the high school students, who will have to reattach them as part of the refurbishment project.
The T-34B was used by the Navy beginning in 1955 as the introductory aircraft for all student naval aviators and was utilized for two decades by multiple services.
After the plane at Point Mugu outlived its usefulness as a trainer, replaced by newer, more technologically advanced models, it remained at the base under the auspices of the now-defunct Point Mugu Navy Flying Club, whose members flew it for recreation for years.
But it was grounded permanently in 2002 after an accident, in which the pilot landed the plane without engaging its landing gear. No one was injured, but the plane was never used again and the club could no longer afford its upkeep, said Art Phillips, the last president of the flying club and its unofficial historian.
He said that according to his research, the pilot simply forgot to engage the landing gear.
So the plane sat on the base, exposed to the elements, for years. Wallace said he would see it each day as he drove to work and wondered if it might serve a purpose for the students he began teaching last year at the career education center. The craft had been destined for disposal by the Navy.
Although Wallace and others had to navigate lots of red tape to make Wednesday's move a reality, he said students in the aviation and auto body programs will ultimately benefit from the effort.
"Kids will understand the components of the aircraft, its utilization and some of its history," Wallace said. "It's part of history and naval aviation."
In the aerospace program at the career education center, students learn about flight physics, airspace and how different types of aircraft operate, Wallace said. Volunteers from the U.S. NAVAIR Reserve Program Flight Test Augmentation Unit, led by Cmdrs. Conrad Dungca and Shane Eisenbraun, will help teach the students, as well.
Diallo Wallace, aviation instructor at Ventura County Office of Education, watches a crane unload a 2,800-pound T-34B plane at Camarillo Airport on Wednesday.
Tiffany Morse, executive director of career education for the county office of education, said she is thrilled to have the Navy's hand-me-down on her campus and said the project will be part of a larger effort to expand and upgrade the aviation program, taking it to the next level in offerings.
"This is a project that will help our auto body and auto paint students, who will get to refurbish a plane, which is something they don't get to do very often," Morse said. "And we'll use it in the aviation program, where the students can go out and look at the mechanics of the plane and have a real hands-on experience."
There were 2,000 students enrolled in county office of education programs last year, including 45 in aviation, she said. She expects the number of aviation students to expand to 200 this year as the program grows and improves.
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