T-28 Top Banana

Julie Clark's T-28 "Top Banana"

A little background about how I was first introduced to the T-28.  Back in 1975 I was married to a Navy A-7 pilot (my high school sweetheart from the 60s!!) and we were based at Lemoore NAS near Fresno.  Through my husband’s pursuit – I was able to interview and get a “job” as a civilian T-34 instructor at the base at NLC.  While I was there (18 months) there was still a small squadron of T-28’s based there (“NJ”) and due to my association out at Base Ops, I was able to get my first ride in one of those T-28’s – and it was a “distant” love affair after that!  Never in my wildest dreams did I ever expect I’d own one someday!  My same thoughts were exact about a T-34, as well!  I was instructing in the B models at Navy Lemoore, and before I knew it I owned an A model T-34, which I bought sight unseen from the U.S. government 36 years (1976) ago, and still have today – which is the airplane I fly actively on the airshow circuit.

At any rate, it wasn’t until 1995 that I once again had the opportunity to fly a T-28 B model.  I thank Duncan Miller of Vacaville for allowing me to fly his beautiful, very stock aircraft, which was the airplane that I originally received my LOA in, in 1995 – with John Harrison as my “mentor” for that!  Well now that the Trojan bug had bitten me, I actually started looking to buy a T-28, even if a project.  As it ended up, after flying out to Kentucky, and up to Washington state to look at a few, I ended up in 1996  “trading” for an unairworthy T-28C in Healdsburg for my Beech Debonair!

After working out the details, and obtaining a ferry permit – the airplane was flown directly to Stockton, initially to get it back airworthy, before I first flew it home to my airpark here in Cameron Park.  I want to give a lot credit to Bob Grant and Mike Muraski who both worked many hours and months to upgrade the airplane to what it is today – (new panels, all new wiring, etc.!)  This was done in Torrance, California at North American Aircraft where Bob Grant had established a great reputation for himself for impeccable workmanship!  I’m sorry he is now retired and enjoying his “new life” up in Hayden Lake, Idaho!  Mike Muraski still works on T-28’s in his own business which is based in Houston, Texas at Hooks Memorial Airport.

My first meeting of other great T-28 folks was at my first FAST wing formation clinic at Kenosha, Wisconsin (1997) although I had been leader “qualified” in the T-34 for years, I now had to start all over again in the T-28, but it was the “start” of a lot of fun.  I met the likes of Ralph “Doc” Glasser, Bob Watts, Bob “Crash” Williams and instantly I felt very accepted – although at first, the whisperings of some were – “Let’s see what she’s made of!” (I believe I was the first “girlie types” on the scene at one of the events!)  After a few preliminary “hops” – they nick named me “Glue” – and from that point on I felt like one of the guys.  (My 15 plus years of formation experience in the T-34 sure helped in my T-28 endeavors!)

To this day I love participating in as many T-28 gatherings as possible, and have enjoyed my Kenosha, Sheboygan, Thermal, Castle, fly-ins over the years.

Many people ask me why the name “Top Banana”?  When I first purchased the big yellow airplane, I knew along with all Navy markings, I wanted to associate 140549 (BU#) with my airline career where I was the first female pilot at Hughes Airwest (1977) where we flew bright yellow DC-9’s – (the airline then became Republic Airlines (1980) merged again 1986, became Northwest – I retired in 2004 – and now “we” are Delta! – quick summary!)

At Hughes Airwest we were the “Top Banana in the West” – so I wanted to immortalize my first airline which gave me my first job as a “major” airline pilot – so thus I used the original logo and replaced the DC-9 caricature with the T-28!

I have owned my T-28 now 17 years this August 2012, and although a hefty airplane to maintain, flying it is pure joy – and quite simple and predictable.  As I tell many backseaters that I give rides to, and I very rarely have an empty backseat – the most complicated thing about that T-28 is not flying it, but understanding the systems, namely the hydraulics.