Some of the aircraft flown by navigators during training.

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Notes:

* The TB25, also known as the AT-24 during WWII. The TB-25K was a B25 stripped of all armor and armaments, but still with the plexiglass in the nose.  The airplane was flown by a single pilot, but kept its dual controls.  The bomb bay was full of electronics, etc., namely the Hughes E-1 Fire Control System, which was what was used in the F89s and F94As and F94Bs of that period and perhaps in the F94C.  Behind the bomb bay there were two observer consoles, with radar scopes, various controls, and a sort of joy stick that aimed the antenna when it was not on automatic mode.  In the later stages of any interception, the observer controlled the antenna to achieve precise tracking of and aim at the target.  Inability to use this joystick precisely resulted in many student washouts.  In automatic mode, the antenna was supposed to lock on to the target, but the E-1 was not reliable in this respect.

Here are some bases the TB25K's were stationed supporting their fighter interceptor squadrons at various times.  Geiger (Spokane), Larson (Moses Lake WA), McChord, Elmendorf, Portland OR, Hamilton, James Connally (of course), Mather, Randolph, Tyndall, Selfridge, Truax (Madison WI), Otis, McGuire, Ladd, Harmon, Kinross, Dover, New Castle DE, Johnson (Japan), Naha, Yokota, Kadena, Itazuke, Suwon, Chitose, Goose Bay, Keflavik, Presque Isle, and Thule. As parts became an issue, the aircraft were discontinued at the overseas bases.

The TB25 was used extensively at James Connally in the 1950s to train intercept observers, and almost every Air Defense Group had a TB25 for proficiency dual so long as the F89 and F94 were flying.  Guard outfits also had them. 

James Connally trained basic observers, but in the 1951-1953 period it trained all-weather fighter radar observers.  It was a six-month program from scratch to commissioning and the award of the wings now known as navigator wings.  The rating was officially known as "aircraft observer radar intercept".  Graduates wound up in the back seats of F89's and F94's at Advanced Flying School, Tyndall AFB FL, as student officers.  After Tyndall, these qualified “observers” went out to the various Fighter Interceptor Squadrons.

* The old, reliable TC-47 was widely used at Ellington AFB, TX for familiarization and training flights.  The plane carried eight students (seven when flying over-water) and two instructors in addition to the crew of three.  There was never a single accident fatality while at Ellington and the aircraft was a warded a flying safety plaque for its extremely low major accident record.

* The T-29 “Flying Classroom” began service as the primary Air Force navigation training aircraft in December 1950.  It served at Ellington AFB, Harlingen AFB and James Connally AFB, all in Texas and at Mather AFB, CA.  While in the air, students learned to navigate using dead reckoning map reading, radio, radar, low level and over-water techniques and procedures.  This aircraft amassed over four million hours of safe flying.  After twenty-five years of service it was replace by the “Flying Classing II” the T-43 jet aircraft in March, 1975.

Models/Variants: T-29A, B, C, D. AT-29C (later redesignated ET-29C). VT- 29C.

C-131A, B, D, E. JC-131B. VC-131D. RC-131F, G

Powerplant: Two Pratt & Whitney R-2800-99W Double Wasp 18-cylinder, two-row radials with 2,500 hp each

Wingspan: 91 ft 9 in.

Length: 74 ft 8 in.

Height: 26 ft 11 in.

Weight: 43,575 lb gross

Armament: None

Accommodation: Crew of four (pilot, copilot, and 2 instructors) and 16 students

Max. Speed: 299 mph

Range: Approx 1,000 mi.

Ceiling: 24,000 ft.

* The T-37 was used as a navigator trainer at Mather AFB after the T-29 was taken out of the Air Force active inventory.  The T-37 was used for training potential navigators the art of Dead Reckoning (DR) and map reading.  This aircraft was used in this roll until the need for this area of expertise was not longer taught, about two years.

* TB-50H Superfortress.

The TB-50H was the last new production model of the B-50 series. Twenty-four aircraft were ordered in the early 1950s and delivered to the Air Training Command in 1952-53. The H model was equipped for navigator and radar operator training and was primarily used to train B-47 crews.

The TB-50H trainer differred significantly from the B-50D, and other models in the series. First, the TB-50H featured 2 astrodomes, which facilitated training by making it possible for crewmen to trade positions during flight. Also, in another departure from combat aircraft, the trainer had no drop tanks, could not be air refueled, and carried no defensive armament. The TB-50H was designed to teach B-47 crews how to use the K-system of radar navigation and bombings and to train specialized engineers, multi-engine pilots, bombardiers, navigators, and observers. The trainer normally carried a crew of 12, consisting of pilot, co-pilot, engineer, bombardier, navigator instructor, left navigator trainee, right navigator trainee, right scanner, K-system trainee, K-system instructor, radio operator, and left radar trainee. The TB-50H's rear bomb bay was packed with electronic gear, but the aircraft was lighter and therefore slightly faster than the B-50D.

The first TB-50H was flown in April, 1952. Within a few months, several of the aircraft reached the Air Training Command. The TB-50Hs entered operational service in August, 1952 at Mather AFB, California. They were assigned to the 3536th Observer Training Squadron of Air Training Command's 3535th Observer Training Wing. As intended, the TB-50Hs were used primarily to train B-47 crews. The last of the 24 TB-50Hs arrived at Mather AFB in March, 1953.

Delivery of one last aircraft in February, 1953 marked the end of the TB-50H production, as well as the termination of the entire B-50 program's production run. The TB-50Hs were phased out of Air Training Command in June, 1955, but once reconfigured as KB-50Ks the aircraft served the Air Force for nearly another 10 years.

Note: Specialized engineers included Aircraft Observers (Aircraft Performance Engineer) training predominantly for assignment to B/RB-36 crews.

If you have pictures to add or comments, e-mail Mike Radowski at: mradowski@mac.com