Posted by: Chris Davis | December 14, 2009

Taming the Texan

The sky was clear, the winds were light, and my heart was thumping like a ghetto cruiser at a car show.  This was a day that I had been working towards for a long time; this was the day that I would solo the T-6 Texan.   As we walk toward the hangar I feel like a kid on Christmas Eve and opening the doors is like unwrapping that one present that you have been waiting on all year.  It’s not until we hook up the tug and pull her out into the Mississippi sun that it really sinks in…I am about to solo the Texan.  Having completed the pre-flight I climb into the front seat, strap into my parachute and cinch it down tight.  These things were made to save your life with no consideration to comfort.  If it’s comfortable then it is probably not on correctly.  They are comparable to a cheap hotel…you only use them out of necessity and the ballroom is nonexistent.  With the seat belt fastened I begin to run through the startup procedures in my mind trying hard not to forget any of the steps that Frank has taught me.  Mixture full rich, prop full forward, throttle cracked about an inch.  Boost pump ON and watch the fuel pressure climb…an electric fuel pump sure beats the wobble pump and makes things a bit easier during the startup.  Throttle set at about 1 inch open…fuel pump OFF.  With my right hand I push the starter button and begin to count propeller blades.  1-2-3-4.  With my left hand I switch the magnetos to the ON position and quickly move it to the throttle.  5-6-7-8 blades.  A cough and puff of smoke are evidence that I am beginning to awaken 600 sleeping horses.  I pump the throttle in an effort to coax them out of their slumber.  More smoke, snorts and grunts as the reluctant thoroughbreds begin to gallop.  I can almost count their steps as each cylinder fires in turn and soon a steady rumble resounds through the countryside.  A quick glance at the oil pressure to ensure she does not get hot under the collar and I switch the alternator to the ON position.  Just off my left wing I see that Frank has successfully awoken his ponies for a ride as well, although he had to do a bit more coaxing as he is commanding a herd of 2,400.  Yes, this is indeed one of the days dreams are made of.  Not only will I be making my first T-6 solo, but I will also be flying formation with Frank in his F4U-5 Corsair.

After waiting for the oil temps to rise to a safe operating temperature I give Frank a thumbs up and we begin to taxi to the active runway.  With the stick full aft I work the standard S-turn taxi and follow Frank to the hold short line and swing the tail, throttle up for a magneto check, carb heat, and prop cycle.  All systems check normal and I open the oil cooler to the halfway point.  Frank had warned me not to forget the oil cooler lest I overheat the temps on climb out.  I say the “Shepard’s” prayer:  “Please, dear God, don’t let me screw up” and again give Frank a thumbs up.  We taxi into position and hold for a staggered takeoff.  I sit and watch in childlike amazement as the Corsair begins its roll down the runway…it seems like mere seconds before he is airborne and the gear fold back into the wells.  Frank holds her on the deck while the airspeed increases and he pulls into a tactical climb at the runways end.  Great, as if my first solo was not tense enough, I have to follow that departure…wait, what am I thinking…I get to follow that…oh heck yeah!!!  I begin to ease the throttle forward slowly and smoothly.  The tail begins to fly quickly and about the time I hit 30 inches of manifold pressure the tires release their grip on the earth and I am airborne.  30 inches and 2,000 rpm, boy does this baby want to climb.  Although admittedly not as impressive as the Corsair; compared the Stearman that I usually fly this baby feels like a homesick angel.  I quickly push the pressurization lever and raise the gear.  As I head out to the practice area my thoughts turn to what history these wings have seen.  Man what stories they could tell if only they could talk.

Upon reaching the practice area I begin to practice some of the maneuvers that Frank has been running me through.  Steep turns, slow flight and stalls all work out normal and I am starting to really feel the old girls rhythm.  Let’s try that roll that we have been working on…160kts and pull the nose up slightly…bump the stick to stop the climb and hard left to the stop…a little forward stick over the top just to get light in the seat and on around the back side…well crap, I wallowed out again…gotta remember that top rudder on the backside.  Enough of that for now, it’s time to find Frank.  I make my way over to the field that we designated as our rendezvous point for our formation.  The radio crackles as Frank calls “tally ho”.  I am at his 11:00 high and closing.  I begin a steady turn and Frank joins on my right wing.  I cannot believe what I am seeing.  I have dreamed of this flight as a kid, but to see it in living color is awe-inspiring.  If only for a moment, I am a Blacksheep and Pappy is my wingman.

After taking a few photos we change positions and Frank takes the lead.  As I ease in off his left wing I quickly realize how much more visibility I have in this seat as compared to the Stearman.  Between the excess visibility, additional power, and control responsiveness; maintaining position is much easier than the workout that I have grown accustom to.  All too quickly it’s time to break formation and head back.  2400 horses can get pretty thirsty if you work them for any length of time.  I peel off to head back to the airport and level off at 3,000 feet…what happens next will live in my memory till the day I die.  Unbeknownst to me, Frank has snuck in on my tail and begins a perfect strafing pass.  He comes at me from out of the sun at my 5 o’clock and I swear I can see the guns blazing.  As he passes under me he pulls up and executes a slow victory roll.  WOW…so that is what history looks like.

OK…gotta get my mind back on track and quit watching the show…I am part of the show this time so I better make it look good.  I follow Frank in and set up for the overhead as he had done before me.  150 mph on initial…cleared for the break at midfield.  Fuel on Left Reserve, seatbelt tight and canopy open to the first notch.  Here comes midfield and “North American 11Fox is in the break”…throttle back to 20 inches and roll wings level onto downwind.  She slows down nicely on the break and at 130 mph I push the pressurization handle and lower the gear…check 2 green and pins showing in the gear window.  120 mph and I am now abeam the numbers; again I push the pressurization handle and now lower the flaps…a lesson that I learned the hard way on a previous flight with Frank is to not forget to re-pressurize the system after dropping the gear or you will land with no flaps.  “North American 11Fox, base to final, gear down & pins in”.  Alright now, almost home…just gotta hold 100 mph across the fence and ease her down on the rollers.  One last check of the gear and 10 feet, 7 feet, 5 feet, hold it…hold it…3, 2, touchdown…and were flying again…dang it!!!  Stick back…let her settle…oh crap, not that much…quick shot of throttle…plop…easy on the brakes…stick back, keep the feet moving…easy girl…no need to get testy on my now.  Well, you know what they say, any landing you can walk away from…

I taxi back towards the hangar and my mind relives the flight that I have just made and I try to make a mental note of every detail.  This is one of those flights that I never want to forget.  As I make the turn to the front of the hangar I notice that Frank has already shut down the Corsair and I park my steed beside his.  We debrief the flight and discuss the various aspects of it as we simulate the maneuvers with our hands.  We discuss my landing and what I did different to cause the bounce as up till now my landings have been very smooth and uneventful.  After much deliberation we both come to the conclusion that it must be due to the lack of weight in the back seat that I had been accustomed to…at least that is what we agree to blame it on.  Although it is my worst landing yet in the T-6 it is also the one that I am most proud of because it is my first solo landing.  We begin to push the planes back in the hangar and as we close the doors and I cannot help but smile.  Today I have achieved two of my dreams:  I have tamed the “Texan” and joined the dwindling ranks of those who have flown formation with the Corsair…what a great day!!!

Clear Skies & Tailwinds

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  1. Terrific!!!!
    Congratulations on your T6 Solo and surviving flying with Frank…that’s your biggest accomplishment…Frank usually leaves no survivors.
    You got a chance to fly one of my favorite airplanes along side another one of my favorite airplanes along side one of my favorite pilots.

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