June 22, 2016 - An unprecedented three-plane formation of the Navy's first, Training Air Wing 5's final T-6B Texan II aircraft arrived to Naval Air Station Whiting Field June 21. The landing marked the command's full complement of primary, fixed-wing aircraft.
The 148th and final T-6B travelled from the Beechcraft factory in Wichita, Kansas and joined in formation with the first and centennial aircraft in Monroeville, Alabama -- with the final T-6B as lead aircraft. Over 100 instructors, students, and civilian contractors gathered at North Field to watch the historical formation. When the crowd heard the loud engine roar in the sky, they rushed outside the hangar to see the formation fly above the airfield, watching as they performed a fan break -- where the three planes simultaneously turned to enter the landing pattern.
The final T-6B was the first to land, followed by the centennial and then the first T-6B. The aircraft taxied in line from the runway toward the south side of the parking line, where two fire trucks were stationed for a ceremonial water arch to honor the aircraft. Everyone cheered as all three approached the hangar and the pilots stepped out of the planes.
Lt. Chris Hill, Training Squadron 2 instructor, and Lt. Cmdr. Nick Ahlen, fixed wing instructor, training unit operations officer, piloted the original T-6B with Lt. Chris Swigart, Training Air Wing (TRAWING) 5 fixed wing assistant operations officer, and Lt. Col. Jeff Hubley, TRAWING-5 operations officer in the centennial plane. Lt. Scott Urbashich, TRAWING-5 instructor of the year, and Capt. Mark Murray, commodore of TRAWING-5, brought home the command's last T-6B. The aircraft is the next-to-last T-6B for the Navy as Naval Air Station Corpus Christi will receive the final one later this month.
The pilots joined the spectators for the commemoration ceremony, where they celebrated the years of hard work from Beechcraft and TRAWING-5 to make it to this day. Murray awarded Urbashich with a certificate to honor the delivery of the final T-6B. Beechcraft Program Management Director Pam Nash presented a model of the T-6B, along with a framed T-6B photo autographed by the employees of Beechcraft to Murray.
"I am most honored to be here today to represent the men and women who built these planes for you," Nash said. "There was a lot of passion put into this program, and we're always focused on safety and quality."
Murray admired the dedication of the employees who crafted the T-6B, comparing it to the work put forth by TRAWING-5.
"I wish everyone here today could walk through their factory," Murray said. "It is about people -- their sweat and hard work. Seeing it will change the way you think when you strap into the aircraft. It is about people and passion, and that doesn't change. It is the same way at Training Air Wing 5."
TRAWING-5 received their first T-6B from Beechcraft August 25, 2009 to replace its aging T-34 Turbomentor fleet. The T-6B had twice the performance power compared to T-34 and came equipped with a digital (glass) cockpit display, heads-up display, and ejection seat.
The process of transitioning one squadron to the T-6B took 9-12 months, and Training Squadron 3 was the forefront of the switch with its first student flight in April 2010. TRAWING-5 officially phased out the T-34 in 2012.
"As of today, Training Air Wing 5 now has 148 Texan II's," Chief Staff Officer Cmdr. Patrick Beam said. "Each was $5.5 million, so that's almost a billion dollars on North Field's flight line."
Since its arrival, TRAWING-5 has flown over 310,000 hours in the T-6B. Combined with the 74,000 flight hours from Training Air Wing 4 in Corpus Christi, Texas, the T-6B has flown an overall total of 384,000 hours as of June 17.
It is the first aircraft student aviators in the maritime services fly and provides them with the basic foundations of aviation. By the time a student completes the 28-week program, they will have flown 43 flight events, 75 flight hours, and 36 simulator events. The program prepares students for the Navy's more advanced training platforms and their fleet aircraft in the future.
"In the foreseeable future, I can see the T-6B in use for another two or three decades," Murray said. "The T-6B cockpit and avionics suite is designed to better facilitate the transition to increasingly sophisticated follow-on training and fleet aircraft, as well as keep pace with emerging air traffic control regulations."