50 years. That’s how long North American’s T-2 Buckeye intermediate jet trainer served in the Navy’s Air Training Command (NATRACOM). Known at first as the T2J-1 when it entered service in 1959, the Buckeye’s designation changed (along with every other one) to T-2A in 1962. 609 Buckeyes were built at the North American factory located in Columbus, Ohio. Also used by Venezuela and still used by Greece’s Hellenic Air Force today, Buckeyes were easy to work on and great teaching platforms.
Nicknamed the “Attack Guppy” and the “Trusty Tubbyjet”, the Buckeye never got much love for its looks, but entire generations of Naval and Marine Corps Aviators and Flight Officers- more than 11,000 of them over 3.4 million flight hours- flew them before they were trusted with more advanced jet aircraft in the fleet. At first powered by a single Westinghouse J34 turbojet engine (T-2A), subsequent variants were powered by uprated Pratt & Whitney J60 turbojets (two of them in the T-2B) and later a pair of GE J85 turbojets in the T-2C. The export T-2D (for Venezuela) and the T-2E (for Greece) were powered by J85s.
The Buckeye and the Grumman TF-9J Cougar together replaced the Lockheed TV-2/T-33B Shooting Star and T2V-1/T-1A SeaStar, the previous and first generation of Navy and Marine Corps jet trainers. Employing a straight wing design and a cockpit layout very similar to the primary piston-engine trainer of the day, the North American T-28 Trojan, the Buckeye’s performance envelope fit neatly between the Air Force’s Cessna T-37 Tweet and the Navy’s advanced jet trainer, the Douglas TA-4J Skyhawk.
Though not equipped with internal weapons or systems to deliver them, T-2C Attack Guppies could be fitted with a pair of wing-mounted .50 caliber machine gun pods, practice bombs, and small practice rockets with which many a budding attack pilot honed early marksmanship skills. The jet also featured full dual controls with powered assist along with large trailing-edge wing flaps, slab-type air brakes on both sides of the fuselage, and a retractable arresting hook, all of which were hydraulically actuated.
North American knew how to build tough aircraft for student pilots to fly. The jet was simple, reliable, extremely stable in flight and tough as nails, with wide-track tricycle landing gear and underslung engines for ease of maintenance. In addition to its primary role as the first jet aircraft in which most student aviators made their first carrier landings, Buckeyes were also utilized by adversary training squadrons and as DT-2B and DT-2C drone controller aircraft. The Navy’s Test Pilot School at Naval Air Station (NAS) Patuxent River in Maryland employed Buckeyes for spin training.
Buckeye was a dependable trainer
Other trainer aircraft came and went during the Buckeye’s long service career. The radial-engine T-28B and T-28C Trojans were replaced by Beech T-34C Turbo Mentors, which in turn were replaced by an acronym- the Beech T-6 Texan II Joint Primary Aircraft Training System (JPATS). The TA-4J Skyhawks were replaced by the McDonnell Douglas T-45 Goshawk. Buckeyes were also replaced by the Goshawk, with the final VT-86 Sabrehawks operational NATRACOM sorties occurring during 2008.
Contract Out of Control (OFC) flight and spin training, chase flights, and weapon trials support flights kept a few T-2Cs in the air but when Test And Evaluation Squadron TWO ZERO (VX-20) Force Aircraft Test retired their last Buckeyes in late 2015 it was goodbye for the Guppy. With so many of the former Navy and Marine Corps trainers relegated to the boneyard at AMARG in Tucson, we can hope that the handful of Buckeyes flying in private hands today is joined by a few more Trusty Tubbyjets.
BONUS: Here’s a short video clip of a restored and privately-owned Buckeye flying at the 2014 Wings over Waukegan Airshow uploaded by AirshowStuffVideos.