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T-2 Buckeye
T-34C Turbo Mentor
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T-39 Sabreliner
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T-6 Texan II

Pensacola's Wings of Gold

Jaco Haasnoot looks at US Navy training in Florida

NAS Pensacola is situated at one of the most beautiful places in Florida, and is the headquarters of Training Air Wing 6 (TAW-6), home of the last T-2 Buckeyes in the US Navy.

Besides the Buckeye, the base is also home to all T-39 Sabreliners serving with the navy, the new T-6 Texan II turboprop, and the US Air Force T-1A Jayhawk; this is because the three squadrons of TAW-6 are jointly manned by Air Force and Navy personnel.

T-1A Jayhawk
Front-line
On the scrapheap

Every year approximately 450 students graduate at 'TRAWING SIX', of which ten percent are students from Germany, Italy, Saudi Arabia and Singapore. NAS Pensacola is a very busy base; the average flying hours for the instructors is around twenty-seven a month, in addition to leading academic classes, simulator instructions, and more.

The current number of planes operational at Pensacola is twenty Sabreliners, forty-two Texans, seven Jayhawks and fifteen Buckeyes. The new T-6 is replacing the very old T-34C Turbo Mentor, now operating from nearby NAS Whiting Field, and can only be seen occasionally visiting Pensacola. TAW-6 Students start their primary training in either VT-4 or VT-10, both operating the T-6. Primary training lasts for fifteen weeks and consists of six familiarisation flights, the student learning the basics of flight.

When primary training is complete, students are selected for appropriate types of aircraft - carrier-based and other tactical jet aviators will continue training at VT-4 or VT-10, this time on intermediate training and flying the T-39 and T-1. After intermediate training the successful student is selected for advanced training with VT-86, which operates the T-39 Sabreliner and T-2 Buckeye. Pilots eventually selected for the E-2C will progress to Norfolk, Virginia for follow-on training.

The old Sabreliners are still very active - after decommissioning of the T-39G in 1997, many were brought back into service in 1999 increasing the fleet of T-39Ns that were becoming hard pressed. Another old aircraft is the Buckeye - after the ones at the US Naval Test Pilot School were retired to AMARC last November, the small fleet at Pensacola are the last left in the inventory. With only around fifteen Buckeyes operational it looks like its time is almost over, but due to budget cuts, replacing this old beauty is not an easy option. It's the Buckeye that is still responsible for students completing their training before becoming a Navy or Marine Corps strike or strike/fighter pilot.

NAS Pensacola is also the home base of the well-known US Navy display team the 'Blue Angels' who practice their show programme every Tuesday and Wednesday. Also based here is the station flight, currently utilising the UH-3H Sea King. At this moment the only bases using the Sea King are NAS Pensacola and NAS Patuxtent River, both using it for SAR duties. The UH-3H will soon be replaced by its successor, the H-60 Seahawk.

NAS Pensacola is known as the 'Cradle of Naval Aviation', with his beautiful surroundings. With its local white beaches, the complex lies within a peninsula, an attractive place for pilots and officers to spend time. This always brings aircraft visiting the base, especially during the weekends.

The base also houses the Naval Air Technical Training Center (NATTC), where Navy personnel are trained in the technical aspects of Naval aviation. Here, students who will eventually work on the deck of an aircraft carrier, or ground crew for any Naval, Marine or Air Force base, are trained using real aircraft. These aircraft are withdrawn from use or written off; the only important thing is that they can be moved around on their undercarriage.

So NAS Pensacola is the place to be for every student who wants to become an officer in the US Navy, and certainly where to receive his 'Wings of Gold'.

'Wings of Gold' was a US TV series between 1997 and 2000; set at Pensacola, the first season dealt with four young Marines being formed into an elite special unit led by Colonel Kelly. The second and third seasons had Kelly as the senior instructor for a group of aspiring Marine fighter pilots, notably 'Burner,' 'Spoon', and 'Ice'.

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