Naval Air Station (NAS) Corpus Christi based on the Texas coast is home to four United States Navy (USN) Training Squadrons. These training squadrons perform basic, intermediate and advanced flight training for Navy and Marine Corps students. During October 2012 Mark Forest and Paul Newbold had the opportunity to get up close to the squadrons and aircraft around the rather full ramps of TAW-4.
Training Air Wing Four (TAW-4) is formed of the four training squadrons, their aircraft, instructors and Student Naval Aviators (SNAs).The Student Naval Aviators who pass through the training regime with TAW-4 fly either the Beech T-34C Turbo Mentor, Beechcraft T-44A/C Pegasus and the Beechcraft TC/UC-12B Huron.
History of TAW-4
During March of 1972 the department of Chief of Naval Air Training (CNATRA) was formed and this command established five Training Air Wings based in the States surrounding the Gulf of Mexico. The Gulf was the ideal location, seeing all year round mild temperatures and large areas of open space for the SNAs to perform unrestricted flying. As well SNAs the Wing also trains Student Naval Flight Officers, Aircrew, maintence crew and Air Traffic Controllers. Primary training for student Aviators lasts for 22 weeks, during which time they are taught flight academics (ground based), and both simulator and flight training. The training within the cockpit consists of familiarisation, basic instruments, precision aerobatics, formation, night familiarisation and finally radio instruments. Around 400 students graduate from the TAW-4 programme each year.
TAW-4 has combined personnel of in excess of 800 staff, and a pool of airframes across the four squadrons numbering nearly 200. The number of aircraft is set to increase for a short period as the newly built Beechcraft T-6B Texan IIs arrive to replace the T-34C. Once the T-6Bs have bedded down with the squadrons, the cycle of retiring the T-34Cs will begin. TAW-4 is the only Training Wing still flying the T-34C after TAW-5 at NAS Whiting Field in Florida fully transitioned over to the T-6B at the end of April 2012 after many years of flying the type. The outgoing T-34Cs departed to either the 209th Aircraft Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG) at Davis-Monthan AFB in Arizona for retirement, or to TAW-4 as replacements aircraft with the squadrons that had accumulated very high flight hours.
Air Wings within the Training Command
TAW-1 NAS Meridian Mississippi
TAW-2 NAS Kingsville Texas
TAW-4 NAS Corpus Christi Texas
TAW-5 NAS Whiting Field Florida
TAW-5 NAS Pensacola Florida
VT-10 T-1A & T-6A
VT-86 T-39G/N & T-45C
VT-27 “Boomers” was established as Training Squadron 27, Advanced Training Unit B on the 11th July 1951. The unit was originally formed at NAS Corpus Christi before they moved onto NAS Kingsville and then later onto NAS New Iberia before being re-designated VT-27 in the early 1960’s. The “Boomers” returned back to Corpus Christi during mid July 1964 and have remained ever since.
Until 1973 advanced training with the squadron was carried out using the twin engine Grumman TS-2A Trackers before advancing to the single engine North American T-28 Trojan. The Trojan was used for almost ten years before the unit converted to its current aircraft type – the Beech T-34C Turbo Mentor. Currently the mixed squadron of USN and USMC pilots will fly well in excess of 70 missions per day and around 12,000 flight hours per year, whilst maintaining a safety record that is second to none.
Commissioned on the 1st May 1960 the “Rangers” also commenced advanced training with multi-engine aircraft using the Grumman TS-2F Tracker. In its first 12 months of operations VT-28 set the bar very high for other training squadrons setting service records in cost efficiency, safety and training standards. The TS-2F had proven to be a safe and reliable airframe with the Navy and continued in service with the Rangers until March 1979, when it was eventually replaced by the Beech T-44A. During 1990, CNATRA moved the mission role of VT-28 away from advanced flight training, and remoulded it into the first instructor training squadron within TAW-4. The unit now assumed responsibility for all instructor training including course curriculum, with oversight for the T-34C, T-44A, instructor standardisation and Functional Check Flights.
On the 1st April 1993 VT-28 assumed its current role as primary training flying the T34C, but also assumed the missions of Intermediate Maritime and Helicopter instruction for SNAs.
VT-31 “Wise Owls”
VT-31 began life as an Advanced Training Unit in 1958 and utilised a variety of aircraft through the years. The first aircraft on strength with the Wise Owls was the Beechcraft SNB (a US Navy version of the successful Beech 18), initially used for instrument and navigation training. The squadron then moved to the Lockheed P-2V Neptune in 1960 and soon after was designated VT-31. Following the P-2V the Martin P5M Marlin flying boat was integrated. In 1963, Aircraft Carrier qualification was entered into the syllabus and with this new role came a new airframe – the Grumman TS-2A Tracker. The Tracker flew with VT-31 for the next 14 years, until during 1977 Beechcraft made a return to the squadron in the form of the T-44A Pegasus. The Pegasus brought with it an advancement in navigation, Radar, avionics, fault insertion system, as well as air conditioning and a fully pressurised cabin. These improvements made training for the SNAs a lot more comfortable.
In 1996 VT-31 expanded because of the success with the joint training scheme with the USAF. Due to the higher demand for training, the Beechcraft UC-12B Huron was procured to augment the now out of production T-44A. In 1999 VT-31 relinquished their TC-12Bs and transferred them to its sister squadron (the newly formed VT-35), and reverted back to flying purely the T-44A. The squadron also has T-44C aircraft on strength, which boast an upgraded cockpit suite compared to the original T-44A, helping student pilots to convert to the more modern follow on aircraft in the Navy fleet.
To date the “Wise Owls” continues to train SNAs in multi-engine flight, it’s student pilots being drawn from the USN, USMC and also the United States Coast Guard.
The squadron was established in 1999 after acquiring VT-31’s TC-12B aircraft and soon after became the first and only Advanced Joint Leadership squadron in the United States military, and also holds the distinction of being the first ever naval squadron to be commanded by an USAF officer. SNAs who join VT-35 are destined for multi-engine airframes such as the C-130, P-3 and P-8 (with the US Navy), and C-130 with the USAF. The Stingrays also provide additional conversion training from rotary to fixed wing multi-engine airframe for United States Navy Test Pilot School candidates. Over VT-35’s short 13 year history the “Stingrays” have distinguished themselves several times, including winning the CNATRA award for Training Excellence (2000), VADM Goldthwaite Award for Training Excellence (2000) and the CNO Aviation Safety Award in 2001. Pilot production excelled by over 20% from 1999 to 2001 which was a remarkable feat at the time for a brand new squadron to achieve such high standards or such a short period of time.
AeroResource would like to extend great thanks to the PAOs on board NAS Corpus Christi and a special mention to Lieutenant John Supple for escorting us round the many ramps on base. Additional thanks to Ian French and Jon Astley for assisting with planning and photography whilst in Texas.