In 1987, Reid Garrison bought a shell of a T-34A Beechcraft Mentor that had been languishing in a hangar in Memphis to restore with his sons Brett and Jeff.
It had no canopy, no engine, no instrument panel, and no control surfaces. This did not faze Reid.
He had already restored two T-6s.
And his life has been devoted to his family and aviation.
With over 20,000 hours of flying time, he’s a retired Army captain who flew and taught flying in fixed wing aircraft and helicopters.
He started the Oconee County Regional Airport (KCEU) near Clemson University in South Carolina, in 1965. He then bought Anderson Aviation at Anderson Regional Airport (KAND). He has run flight schools, a charter service, towed banners, and he’s an aircraft broker who also writes aircraft insurance.
A member of the South Carolina Aviation Hall of Fame, he was awarded the Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award in 2015 and the Charles Taylor Master Mechanic Award in 2016. He has been a member of the Experimental Aircraft Association since 1972, the Warbirds of America since 1981, and the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association for 35 years. He flew aerobatic airshows in a T-28 Trojan for five years.
It was Reid’s plan to restore the T-34 to fly with his sons. The project took three and a half years.
According to Reid, it took a year just to restore the cockpit. The breaker panel is so clearly labeled it’s a thing of beauty.
During SUN ‘n FUN 2018, Reid pointed to stainless steel plates on the floorboard under the rudders and said they took 11 hours to build. The rivets in the plates are flush with the plate, allowing shoes to slide easily over them.
“We replaced the original magnesium sheeting with aluminum. We put a 300 Continental engine in it and replaced the two-blade prop with a three-blade prop,” Reid said. “And we added a smoke system for aerobatics.”
“We’ve flown to Titusville, Oshkosh, SUN ‘n FUN, and local airshows,” he continued. “We started flying this one so much, I bought a second one.”
Like their father, Jeff and Brett have earned their ATP ratings. The family that once owned 15 aircraft is now down to five: A T-34A, a T-34B, a Beechcraft Bonanza V35A, a deHavilland Chipmunk, and their “favorite toy,” a Piper Super Cub.
“The best part of restoring our T-34 with my father and brother was how much dad taught me and my brother,” said Brett. “We learned about stripping paint, sheet metal work, painting, wiring and anything you do when restoring an aircraft. My brother and I were amazed at how much knowledge my dad had about aircraft maintenance.”
When asked if he’d do it again, Brett said, “Yes, we would restore another T-34 again if we still had the facility we had when we did this aircraft. Now we do not run the FBO in Anderson. At that time, we had a lot of hangar space, parts, and tools to do what we did. Dad actually almost bought another project at one time, so we would have three matching T-34s.”
Brothers Brett and Jeff each have about 800 hours in their T-34s.
“Brett likes to fly the B model,” Reid said. “It has an adjustable seat and an on/off fuel selector. I fly the A. It has a digital fuel monitor and a left/right fuel selector.”
He added that he switches the fuel tanks every hour in flight.
He explained that the T-34 is a two-seater warbird that carries 49 gallons of fuel with about a three-hour flight range.
Three days before they were planning to fly to SUN ‘n FUN, the Garrisons had to fix one of the aircraft.
“It needed a new right fuel cell. We rebuilt the nosewheel because it was leaking oil at the O-rings. We overhauled the prop and the prop governor,” said Brett Garrison. “It was important to me that we make this trip with both planes.”
Reid is 81 years old and has been married to Cherry for 57 years. Son Jeff is in his 50s and Brett in his 40s.
Jeff Garrison was unable to come to SUN ‘n FUN this year due to work. Reid’s daughter Natalie manages the office for Reid’s aviation insurance business.
Reid said he retired at age 60. But after 20 years of retirement, it doesn’t seem as if he’s even slowed down a bit.