31 October 1997
Half-Hour Ride in a T-6, with 15 minutes' stick time

Collected the T-6 (it's really a SNJ-5, the Navy version ) ride that Carol and the boys gave me for Christmas last year.  The T-6 "Texan" is a World War II era plane that was used for transition training, so that new pilots could go from Piper Cub-type basic trainers to fighters and bombers without killing themselves too often.  (Hm.  How often can one kill oneself?)  This is what got me taking flying lessons again--mainly when the T-6 owner and pilot, Mark Hutchins, mentioned to me on the phone last month, when I was scheduling the flight, that it might be worth learning to fly just for the discipline.  Well, it's a discipline, all right.  Anyway, that made sense to me and helped clarify my thinking.
So Carol, Chris and I drove to T-6 cockpit, side viewWinchester Airport this morning, found the field and the T-6 and checked in at the office.  On the ramp, Hutchins's wife (a veterinarian who's also a pilot) got me strapped in, first into the parachute harness and then into the T-6's four-point seatbelt harness.  She got me fixed up with a WW II vintage flying helmet--cloth, though, not leather.  I was surprised by how comfortble it was, much more comfortable that a regular headset.  And of course it was good for the nostalgia, too.  Reminded me of the war surplus helmet I had as a kid.  I was surprised at how much space there was in the cockpit--in the back seat, at least.  The belly of the plane is about two feet below the rudder pedals, and there are two platforms for the feet, rather than a solid floor.  That's me in the back seat.  Hutchins' helmet has his name and date of birth (some date in 1950) stenciled on the back and "Blood Type A Positive."  Probably puts the fear of god into many a passenger.  He seems an intelligent and thoughtful type, calm and quiet. Used to drive formula race cars in Europe. 
T-6 taxiingThen he fired up the big radial engine--600 hp--and began taxiing to the end of the runway, making S-turns so he could see ahead around the high nose.
Take off was smooth and seemed easy, and soon we were climbing at about 80 knots and 1,000 feet per minute.  At 2,500 feet--the airport is at about 650 feet, I think--cruising at about 150 knots, T-6 taking off--1

T-6 taking off--2

T-6 climbing outHutchins said for me to fly the plane and suggested that I try making some turns to see how it flew.  I was surprised to find that no real stick movement was necessary at all, just a little bit of pressure and we rolled into about a 15 degree turn.  Well, I think it was 15 degrees; the needle on the turn-and-bank indicator never budged once in the whole flight.  I mentioned that to Hutchins, but he said it wasn't needed in the back seat.  That was so--as long as he was flying in the front seat.  Anyway, I did a number of turns and found that it was easy to hold the altitude.  At his suggestion, I headed northeast toward a cut in the mountain near Harper's Ferry There are two parallel ridges there, the Blue Ridge and Short Hill Mountain (I looked them up on a topo map later), with the Shenandoa River looping back and forth along the Blue Ridge and then running eastward through the cut. The visibility was good, and the view from a couple of thousand feet up was something.

About 15 minutes into the half hour flight, we turned back toward Winchester.  A few minutes later Hutchins asked if I'd like for him to do a few aileron rolls.  I'd rather have gone on flying it myself, but he seemed eager to perform, so I said yes.  He took over and nosed down to accelerate to about 180, then pulled up sharply--felt like about one G--and rolled around.  I think it's what used to be called a barrel roll, where there's always positive gravity, even inverted, so you never feel yourself hanging from your harness.  He did several more rolls, the last a four point roll that still didn't seem to produce any negative G force.  I guess those rolls are exciting to passsengers, yet don't induce them to spread their lunches around the inside of the plane.

In landing, he held it off the runway until it quit flying ans settled down softly on all three wheels.  It was altogether a nice ride.  Expensive though.  He's probably making a reasonable living at it, despite the costs of maintenance, insureance, and all--and filling up the fuel tanks.  He said the T-6 cruises at 36 gallons per hour, so that's 70 bucks, or so, just for an hour's fuel..

There was enough time before his next scheduled flight to take Chris up for fifteen minutes.  Chris said he didn't want to try flying, so Hutchins just went up fast and spent most of the time doing rolls, Immelmans, and other such maneuvers.  Chris came down with his breakfast still in place and a big grin on his face.

On the drive home, we noticed the "Flying Circus" sign near Warrenton and turned in just to have a look-see.  What a difference from the spic-and-span operations Winchester Airport, where the T-6 is, and from the Chesterfield County Airport!  The Flying Circus field is a meadow, with trees all around and not a square foot of concrete or macadam in sight.

We drove around to the front of the long barn-like wooden hanger, where we encountered Harold "Bo" Bogert, Jr. (as his card calls him), who was working on the engine of the Fleet biplane they use in their weekly show.  He reminded me a lot of Carol's father.  He showed us around and seemed happy to talk airplanes for a while.  In that hanger they have a Stearman, an L-4, a J-3 Cub, and a couple of other biplanes I couldn't identify.  He gives rides for $60 a half hour and says he likes it best during the week, when there's time for a really good ride.  "Weekends," he said, "it's just numbers."

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(I used a Snappy to grab the images from 8 mm video tape, then sharpened and brightened them up a bit with PhotoImpact.  Then I reduced them to 25% of the original size and saved them with 35% jpeg compression.)