Authored By Dan Alex (Updated: 4/5/2016):
T-34 origins place her as a private venture undertaken by American aviator Walter Beech of Beechcraft Aircraft Company. Walter Beech earned his stripes as a fighting airman in World War 1. The Beechcraft company was started in 1932 by Walter and his wife, Olive Ann Beech. After several victories in commercial races with Beechcraft planes, the company's attention turned to the production contract windfall known as World War 2. During the whole of the conflict, the firm was responsible for the production of some 7,400 aircraft for the American war effort. Bombers and navigators mostly trained on the Twin Beech AT-7/C-45 "Expeditor" (Beechcraft Model 18) series.
The T-34 design itself was developed from the single-engine, piston-powered Beechcraft Model 35 "Bonanza" and designed under the project name of "Beechcraft Model 45". Up to this time, the American armed forces were doing their aerial training using the 1930's-era North American Aviation T-6 Texan, this aircraft powered by a single radial piston engine with seating for two and sporting low-set monoplane wings. The T-6 went on to be produced in 15,495 examples and benefitted commercially from the environment of a wartime America. Beech sought to market his proposed Model 45 design as a budget alternative to the aging T-6.
The Model 45 was produced from three initial proposed airframe designs. One such design was fitted with the Beech-style "Vee" vertical tail fins common to the brand. The four-seat cabin of the original Bonanza allowed for a large two-seat cockpit to be introduced. These three designs eventually evolved to become a conventional arrangement of engine, wings and a centrally-placed cockpit to better help its marketing to American military brass. The understructure was further strengthened over that of the original Bonanza to contend with the rigors of military fighter training. A single prototype example was constructed and furthered in three Model A45T forms. The initial two units were fitted with a Continental E-185 engine of 185 horsepower output while the third prototype was given a Continental E-225 series engine. First flight was achieved on December 2nd, 1948. By 1950, the USAF had placed an order for three Model A45T evaluation aircraft under the new designation of YT-34.
The design was accepted by the United States military and introduced in 1953. The first operator became the United States Air Force receiving the T-34A model. The United States Navy became the next operator in 1955 and accepted the slightly-modified T-34B into service. The T-34B was also license-built in Canada as the "B45" trainer. Other producers eventually became Fuji Heavy Industries of Japan and FMA of Argentina. Production of T-34A models finished in 1956 and was followed by T-34B production commencement in 1957. The final B45 rolled off the assembly lines in 1959.
Design of the T-34 was wholly conventional. The engine was mounted to the extreme front of the fuselage, followed by the tandem-seat cockpit. The student pilot and instructor sat under a bubble canopy offering up excellent visibility in all quadrants. Wings were low-mounted monoplanes and unswept, clipped at the tips, and fitted just under the cockpit and sported some dihedral (upwards angle). The tail was equally conventional and made up of a single vertical tail fin with little to no sweep. The tail fin was complimented by a pair of horizontal planes. The aircraft sat on a tricycle undercarriage with two single-wheeled main landing gear legs retracting under each wing and a single-wheeled nose landing gear leg retracting rearwards under the engine compartment.
The T-34 was produced in a handful of variants beginning with the three YT-34 prototypes. These evolved into the T-34A for the US Air Force to which some 450 examples were ultimately delivered. T-34A's in USAF service were replaced by the Cessna T-37 series trainers.