MILTON — When Richard Maddox, 73, drives past Milton High School each day, he looks at the Trojan T-28B static aircraft on display on the lawn and reminisces on his time in the United State Navy.
Maddox flew the same type of plane in the 1970’s as part of Training Squadron 6 (VT-6) out of Naval Air Station Whiting Field. While Maddox didn’t fly in the specific aircraft on display, he trained young pilots in another T-28 that is currently on display in Evergreen, Ala.
Maddox has more than 800 flight hours teaching students in that aircraft. As he sits in his favorite Milton coffee shop, he remembers the day the aircraft’s 9-cylinder, 1,425-horse power engine blew up like it was yesterday.
“I had an Iranian student [with me],” Maddox said. “We were flying out of Whiting Field and it was just a normal training sortie.”
When the aircraft reached about 2,000 feet, Maddox said they noticed a problem. Flying somewhere between Brewton and Whiting Field, Maddox knew he had to do something.
“I added as much power and climbed as high as I could,” Maddox said. “The airplane was shaking like crazy. I turned back toward Whiting Field… but finally it went ‘kaboom’ and the cowling (engine cover) blew off the airplane.
“My buddy always told me, ‘If you’re going to crash, have an audience.’ So I called the squadron first and told the guys… ‘Come on out and watch the crash.’”
The base cleared a path of Maddox to land the plane and had the crash truck available on site. The plane touched down 500 feet short on the runway on the grass, rolled onto the pavement, and missed the crash truck by 10 feet.
As a souvenir, the Navy let Maddox keep the master rod, piston and cylinder from the plane. Originally, Maddox was told that his plane would be displayed in front of Milton High School. Another pilot from Training Squadron 3 (VT 3) experienced a similar crash around the same time, and his plane was put on display instead.
Maddox served nine years active duty in the Navy and 11 in the reserves. After retiring, he flew a ‘flying boat’ for Texaco. Later, Maddox taught at Whiting Field in T-34 simulators for 10 years before becoming a flight trainer for Continental Airlines flying a variety of aircraft.
“All in all, I think I’ve had a good aviation career,” Maddox said. “I look back on this now and remember in high school when my dean said, ‘Maddox, you ain’t going to amount to [anything],’ and I just said, ‘I’ll show you.’”
After retiring as a captain on a Boeing 737, Maddox stayed in the Milton area.
“I never thought I’d ever live here,” Maddox, a Colorado native, said. “Last week I was flying that plane, and now I’m an old fart.”
But Maddox said he appreciates the adventures that plane took him on as he walked out of the coffee shop to his new favorite vehicle — a 1963 Saab 96, made by the same company that makes aircraft.