In April 1999, a Beech T-34 engaged in mock aerial combat crashed near Rydal, Georgia. NTSB reports indicate that the crash was preceded by an in-flight separation of the wing. Metallurgical examination revealed fatigue cracks at multiple locations in the wings of the accident aircraft. As an interim fix to this problem, the FAA issued an AD placing airspeed and G-load limitations on the T-34. Raytheon developed a "mandatory" service bulletin (SB) 57-3329 to inspect the critical fatigue locations on T-34 aircraft. On May 5, 2000, the FAA published a proposed AD (2000-CE-09-AD) mandating Raytheon's recommended wing spar inspections. On July 2, 2001, the FAA finalized the AD mandating wing spar inspections. On July 30, 2002, the FAA issued a Special Airworthiness Information Bulletin listing approved AMOCs and extending the AD compliance deadline.
On November 19, 2003, near Montgomery, Texas, a second T-34 Mentor experienced a separation of the right wing and crashed, causing two fatalities. Preliminary investigation of the accident determined that AD 2001-13-18, T-34 Wing Spar Inspection, was not accomplished. A group that provides mock aerial combat and upset training operated this aircraft, like the aircraft mentioned above. This was the second such crash of a T-34 aircraft used in this type of aerial activity. On December 22, 2003, the FAA issued an Airworthiness Concern Sheet (ACS) as part of the Airworthiness Concern Process. In the ACS, the FAA stated that it was considering rescinding all four AMOCs to AD 2001-13-18 and the 200-hour extension that was referenced in SAIB CE-02-38R2. The reason for rescinding all four AMOCs given was because they did not address Location (3) and/or Location (4). The reason for rescinding the 200-hour extension given was that it was based on engineering judgment that the lower rear bathtub fitting was a precursor to fatigue cracking in the wing. The FAA no longer felt the lower rear bathtub fitting was a precursor to fatigue cracking in the wing based on the data from the accident in Texas.
The FAA published a revision of AD 2001-13-18 on March 1, 2004. This AD rescinded all four approved alternate methods of compliance (AMOCs) and required all T-34s that had accumulated 80 hours time in service since the original AD was issued in August 2001 to comply with Raytheon Service Bulletin SB57-3329 for additional inspections. These inspections would continue at 80-hour intervals.
December 10, 2004 - The Federal Aviation Administration has issued an emergency AD applicable to all T-34 aircraft models following the December 7, 2004, in-flight separation of the left wing of a third aircraft.
March 7, 2005, the FAA issued Special Airworthiness Information Bulletin (SAIB) CE-05-36 to alert T-34 owners of an approved inspection program for airplanes that have not yet reached 3,800 hours total time in service (TIS).
UPDATE: April 19, 2005, the FAA has issued several "alternate means of compliance" (AMOC) that will allow most T-34s to get back in the air this summer. The new AMOCs will allow most owners to fly their T-34s for up to 60 hours, provided they don't exceed 152 knots or -0/+2.5 Gs, don't fly aerobatics, avoid flight into known moderate or severe turbulence, and complete a surface eddy current inspection. It applies to aircraft that have had wing spar modifications by GAMI, Nogle & Black, or Parks Industries. Owners need to contact the original AMOC holder to get the 60-hour flight extension.
Those aircraft modified by the Saunders Strap AMOC must complete the same surface eddy current inspection as the other AMOCs. However, once the inspection is completed, the airplane is returned to its original flight envelope and has a 300-hour interval between inspections of the center section.
The FAA's Emergency AD 2004-25-51 grounds all T-34s until they can be inspected or modified under a program approved by the Wichita Aircraft Certification Office. However, investigators do not know yet exactly what caused the left wing to fail, so there is no approved inspection program; therefore, the T-34s are effectively grounded for an indefinite period. The AD does allow owners to fly their aircraft back to home base or to a maintenance facility. For that purpose, owners may fly the aircraft for up to 10 hours within the next 30 days, provided they do so in VFR conditions, do not exceed 152 knots, and do not impose any loads on the aircraft greater than Normal-category flight (-0 to +2.5 G).
The FAA has issued several "alternate means of compliance" (AMOC) that will allow most T-34s to get back in the air this summer. And there is a special AMOC for airshow performer Julie Clark that will permit her to fly at least some of her performances this season. The T-34 Association worked closely with the FAA to obtain this solution, while AOPA assisted by working with both groups.
The Beechcraft T-34 Mentors, former military training aircraft similar to the Bonanza, were grounded late last year following the third in-flight breakup of a T-34 used in mock aerial combat. (See " AOPA advocates for owners of aging aircraft.")
The new AMOCs will allow most owners to fly their T-34s for up to 60 hours, provided they don't exceed 152 knots or -0/+2.5 Gs, don't fly aerobatics, avoid flight into known moderate or severe turbulence, and complete a surface eddy current inspection. It applies to aircraft that have had wing spar modifications by GAMI, Nogle & Black, or Parks Industries. Owners need to contact the original AMOC holder to get the 60-hour flight extension.
For more information, contact the T-34 Association.
Emergency AD 2004-25-51
Revision of AD 2001-13-18
Airworthiness Concern Sheet
Raytheon Aircraft Corporation Mandatory SB 57-3329 and AD 2001-13-18
AOPA is concerned with this latest accident and how it will affect the future of T-34 aircraft. On a larger scale, we are also concerned with how this accident will affect the FAA's overall views on aging aircraft. As with most issues, a myriad of mitigating factors may have led to this most recent wing failure and will impact the actions taken by the FAA and the T-34 community. AOPA will continue to work closely with the FAA and the affected industry to explore viable solutions that adequately address the safety concerns.
AOPA thanks our members for their continued support in protecting the freedom to fly.