Fairchild M-92 / XNQ-1 / T-31
Towards the end of the Second World War the US Navy set out to issue specifications for a replacement for the basic and primary aircraft trainers that were used during the war. These specifications were released to industry on 26 April 1945 by the Bureau of Aeronautics (BuAer).
Three companies entered designs - Temco entered the T-35 Buckaroo, adapted from the Globe Swift, Beechcraft entered the T-34 Mentor, a tandem seat adaptation of the Bonanza and Fairchild chief engineer, Armand Thiebolt, entered a custom-designed aircraft that had the Navy designation XNQ and the later USAF designation T-31.
The Fairchild XNQ (T-31) (Model M-92) was the fastest primary trainer to date. The Model M-92 featured a controllable pitch propeller, flaps, electronically operated retractable landing gear and all-metal skin with fabric-covered rudder, ailerons and elevators.
Its unobstructed, one-piece bubble canopy provided instructors and students seated in tandem with all-round visibility, and its cockpit instruments were arranged to match those found in a 600 mph jet fighter or a 5,000-mile, long-range patrol plane. To help students recognize the instruments, the landing gear handle was in the shape of a tiny landing gear wheel, and the flap handle was shaped like the airfoil of a flap.
The Fairchild XNQ-1/T-31 was designed in 1945. The first of three constructed made its maiden flight in 1946. Of the three XNQs/T-31s, one was destroyed for structural testing, and one was destroyed in a landing accident.
Two prototypes were flown as XNQ-1 [75725/75726]. Registered with a civilian tail number N5726, the first XNQ, built at Fairchild's Hagerstown, Maryland, plant, made its first flight there on 10 February 1947 with Fairchild's chief test pilot, Richard Hansen, at the controls. The 20-minute maiden flight was uneventful and showed only some simple rework of the aileron tabs were necessary. After a series of company test flights, the XNQ was delivered to the US Navy at Anacostia, Washington for formal evaluation. After an initial series of flights in the Washington DC area, the flight test program continued at NAS Patuxent River after which the aircraft returned to Fairchild to prepare it for evaluation by the USAF as the T-31.
The third ship built, s/n 75726, was first flown on February 10, 1947. On its first flight, the test pilot forget to lower the landing gear. The second aircraft (BuNo. 75726) with a larger stabilizer was evaluated by the USAF in 1949 as a replacement for the AT-6, being selected on 24 March 1949 as a primary trainer. Designed to be acrobatic to teach pilots basic maneuvers, such as stalls, spins, rolls and dive pullouts, Fairchild received a contract for 100 aircraft as the model 129, USAF designation T-31. However, the order was cancelled later in 1949, in favor of the Beech T-34 Mentor.
In November 1948, it was pointed out that normal procurement channels had not been followed, and Beech requested a fly-off competition even before the YT-34 was test flown. On March 17, 1949, the Chairman of the Evaluation Board voted the XNQ-1 first, the T-34 second, and the T-35 third. In September of 1947, the USAF requested XNQ procurement as follows:
January 1950 - 50
The influence of the Korean War, politics, and the tricycle gear were factors leading to the eventual selection of the T-34.
Delivered to the U.S. Navy in 1947 for trials, they were rejected. Tests had revealed problems with exhaust fumes leaking back into the cockpit. The first prototype was subsequently to receive a number of engine upgrades, first powered with 320 hp Lycoming R-680-13, then finally with an inline 350 hp Lycoming GSO-580. The aircraft was destroyed in a crash in 1950.
Both XNQs as T-31s were flown to Randolph AFB outside of San Antonio, Texas, for their formal USAF evaluation in a fly-off with both the Beech and Temco candidates. At the time the USAF also considered the De Havilland Canada DHC-1 Chipmunk as well as the British Boulton Paul Balliol, but both were quickly eliminated from consideration, leaving Fairchild, Beech, and Temco remaining in the USAF evaluation. Like the US Navy, the USAF selected the Beech T-34 Mentor, again, its tricycle landing gear layout being one of its strong points. It was the second rejection of the Fairchild design. The aircraft was passed on to the US Navy where it was flown by student test pilots at the US Navy's Test Pilot School at NAS Patuxent River and after a gear up landing that resulted in only minor damage in 1953, the Navy declared the unique aircraft surplus to its needs after it had only amassed just over 1,000 flight hours.
Fairchild dropped plans to develop the design as the company concentrated on other production contracts, including the Fairchild C-119. The second aircraft, privately owned, was still on the civil register on 15 January 2006 and airworthy.
The wing commander for the National Capital Wing of the Civil Air Patrol arranged to take ownership of the XNQ and in October 1953 the aircraft was repaired at NAS Patuxent River before being flown to a small airfield south of Alexandria, Virginia where it was stationed for the next 2 years, only clocking 12 flight hours in that time period. Part of the problem with the XNQ wasn't its performance or handling, but that its wingspan was just over a foot too wide for the standard 40-foot hangar at the airfield and it ended up spending most of its time outdoors which adversely affected its condition. In 1955 the aircraft was ferried to Rockville, Maryland, but again, was stored outdoors which resulted in further deterioration. When that small airfield was closed, the Fairchild was abandoned in situ.
John St. Clair, the operations officer of the Congressional Squadron of the Civil Air Patrol, trucked aircraft to his home 8 miles away to try and save it given its unique history. He later assumed formal ownership of the aircraft to keep it from going to the junkyard. Fast forward to 1978, the aircraft is still on the St. Clair farm in rural Maryland and Armand Thiebolt's son visited John St. Clair and asked about purchasing the aircraft, the deal of which fell through. Later, Robert Taylor, the founder of the Antique Airplane Association, asked St. Clair if he would donate the XNQ to a museum, which he agreed to and a crew from the association trucked what was left of the aircraft to Waco, Texas with plans of restoring her to flight status. The history of the XNQ took a new turn after its arrival in Waco when general aviation pilot Don Pellegrino and his wife were weathered in at the airport and he found the XNQ in storage in a hangar and approached Taylor about purchasing the aircraft.
While negotiations proceeded, the aircraft was moved to Oklahoma City in 1982 but still no restoration work had started. At a fly-in in Iowa, Taylor approached Pellegrino and told him "Make me an offer I can't refuse" and with that, Pellegrino become the XNQ's new owner for $800. In September that year Pellegrino trucked the aircraft to his farm in Iowa and began restoration work in earnest.
Ten years were spent rebuilding the aircraft in an Iowa barn. The rebuilding process involved re-skinning the bottoms of the center section, the wings, the horizontal stabilizer, and the cowling. Needless to say, numerous “small” parts were also rebuilt. The Lycoming R-680-13 engine and all the instruments needed to be replaced. Having been exposed to the climate and moves from Maryland to Texas and Oklahoma, and finally Iowa, the basic airframe was hurting but rebuildable.
After ten years of working on it in his free time, the XNQ made its second maiden flight on 1 June 1992, the first time the aircraft had flown since 1955. Pellegrino flew the 25 FAA-required hours of flight testing himself and since then he has since moved to Rhome, Texas, just outside of the Dallas-Fort Worth area and has flown the XNQ to airshows around the country. She still has her same tail number of N5726.
Engine: 1 × Lycoming R-680-13 radial, 238 kW (320 hp)