Tens of thousands of U.S. and foreign pilots received instruction on the T-2 Buckeye, an outstanding Navy training aircraft. But the T-2—originally designated T2J—was not the Navy’s jet trainer that served the longest or was produced in the largest numbers. Those accolades belonged to the T-33 Shooting Star and its companion T2V/T-1 SeaStar, variants of the famed P-80/F-80 fighter aircraft.
From 1959 to 2004 the Buckeye transitioned would-be pilots from prop to jet aircraft, primarily at Naval Air Station Meridian, Mississippi. In the pilot-training role the aircraft was used for carrier qualification landings. The Buckeye also was used to train naval flight officers and, later, was employed as a utility aircraft for various specialized aviation units and as a drone control aircraft (the last redesignated DT-2).
The Buckeye was ordered from North American Aviation of Columbus, Ohio, in 1956. The firm had a long history of producing excellent piston-engine trainers for the U.S. military services, including the SNJ Texan and T-28 Trojan for naval service. To reduce development costs, engineers adapted the straight wing shape of the firm’s FJ-1 (later F-1) Fury carrier-based fighter and the control system of the T-28C Trojan (with hydraulic boost added). Other Buckeye features included fixed wingtip fuel tanks, excellent visibility for the student and instructor, Martin-Bajer ejection seats, and tailhook for carrier operations. Although carrier capable, the aircraft did not have folding wings. Some variants could carry two 320-pound bombs, or rockets, or machine-gun pods on up to six wing stations.
The new trainer made its first flight, as the T2J, on 31 January 1958 and was given the name Buckeye to honor the state where it was manufactured. Subsequent carrier trials on board the USS Antietam (CVS-36) were successful.
Training Squadron (VT) 4 at NAS Pensacola, Florida, received the first operational Buckeyes in July 1959. Series production followed, with the aircraft being redesignated T-2A in the joint-service system adopted in 1962. (That same year the aircraft division of North American became part of North American Rockwell and, eventually, Rockwell International.) That single-engine variant was succeeded on the production line by the twin-turbojet T-2B, with the later T-2C having more powerful engines. The T-2D was an export version for the Venezuelan Air Force, while the T-2E went to the Hellenic Air Force; those “runs” were 12 and 40 aircraft, respectively.
In U.S. naval service, the Buckeye provided flight training between piston trainers and more advanced fleet aircraft. The best-known Navy training squadrons to fly the Buckeye were VT-4, VT-19 Green Frogs, VT-23 Professionals, and VT-26 Tigers. Squadrons VT-43 and VT-126 used the Buckeye for adversary training.
The last Buckeye rolled off the Columbus production line in December 1974. Although the aircraft was produced for 15 years and was in great demand, only 519 were built. In the training role the Buckeye has been replaced by the McDonnell Douglas T-45 Goshawk, the U.S. Navy version of the BAE Systems Hawk trainer/light-attack aircraft.
The author appreciates the assistance of the late Robert F. Dorr in preparing this column.
North American/Rockwell T-2C Buckeye
Type: Advanced trainer
Crew: Student + instructor
Max. weight: 13,180 pounds
Engines: 2 General Electric J85-GE-4 turbojet; 2,950 lbs each
Length: 38 feet, 8 inches
Wingspan: 38 feet, 2 inches
Wing area: 255 square feet
Height: 14 feet, 9½ inches
Max. speed: 521 mph at 25,000 feet
Range: 910 statute miles
Ceiling: 44,400 feet
Armament: varies; see text