Flying the T6

When you climb into the front hole of the T-6 it feels like a fighter. And one reason it feels like a fighter is because North American designed the Texan to give the student the feel and controls of a big bird with less speed and a more forgiving nature.

Describing the cockpit of a T-6 is like describing a cockpit of most World War Two fighters, although it is quite a bit larger than something like a Bearcat. Beneath your left arm are all of the primary accessory controls, i.e. elevator, aileron, and rudder trims, as well as the landing gear and flap actuators. All of the electronic and radio goodies are on a console by your right arm. One gun sticks through the front of the panel.

Cranking up a round engine is one of the world's true sensual delights and it's made even more so if an inertia starter is being used. The whine of the starter winding up and the descending mechanical growl of engagement are right out of a late night movie sound track. And, of course, as the engine coughs into life, blowing smoke and noise past your elbows, which are sticking out over the canopy rails, the mechanical nostalgia gets even deeper.

Canopy back, "S" turning your way out to the runway, there's no doubt you are working with a big piece of iron. As you roll out on to the centerline, double checking to make sure the tailwheel is locked, you bring the power up smoothly and wait for the 600 horses to start shoving all that sheet metal down the runway. Many airplanes accelerate much faster than a Six and because of sheer size the Texan feels almost as if it is lumbering along. Your visibility isn't nearly as bad as expected, only the center portion of the runway is blocked, so it is relatively simple to ease rudder one way or the other to keep tracking straight.

As soon as the power is against the stop, the tail is picked up gently (repeat, gently) and the airplane will fly off with little or no provocation from the pilot who thinks he's in command. Hoist the tail vigorously and you'll get a surprisingly quick swing to the left as the gyroscopic precession of the prop kicks in.

At this point retraction of the landing gear requires an extra step in the earlier birds. In the late models, you just jerk the gear handle (that's down by your left knee) in and up. In earlier Sixes and most SNJs, however, you have to first activate the hydraulic system by pushing down on a power lever which gives you juice for something like thirty seconds.

Setting up climb power at 30 inches and 2000 rpm you can just sit back and watch as the world gradually falls away. While the rate of climb isn't going to do much to amaze you, the feeling that comes over you will. You find yourself drifting into a military mental mode, since there is nothing about the airplane that even vaguely reminds one of a civilian airplane. Absolutely nothing! The Texan is hardcore military and the only difference between the Six and a fighter is the number on the airspeed gauge is much lower. Numbers are only numbers. If you don't have telephone poles whizzing past to give numbers some scale, they are totally abstract, so you can play fighter pilot to your hearts content in a Six.

The Texan stalls clean somewhere in the neighborhood of 70 mph but the addition of G and/or bank angle can run that up rapidly.By by pulling a bit too hard on the top of a loop, the airplane will gently stall and do a half-snap to right side up and will continue into a spin if you wait too long to release the back pressure.

You can see the same type of stall performance in a tight turn.Ppull into a tight turn to the left, increasing back pressure as the speed burns off. Somewhere along the line the airplane will decide it's had enough and do a half snap to the outside (if the ball is centered) in one of the prettiest vertical reverses you've ever seen. If the ball is shoved to the outside, however, the Six will snap to the inside and you'd better have a little altitude to recover.

Throwing the gear out on downwind, you check the gear lights, but you also squint to see through little plexiglass windows on the top of each side of the wing center section. It's only by checking to see that the locking pins are secure that you know for sure the gear is locked down. Then you set up what is fairly normal approach planning to have 90 mph on final, by which time you'll have all 45 degrees of flap out. (donít forget that you have to push the power leaver for that 30 seconds of hyd) The flaps are split trailing edge affairs rather than true-hinged surfaces, so they generate as much drag as they do lift. This puts your nose down and gives you tremendous visibility on final. On go-around you have to milk the flaps up or the T6 will settle rapidly. (once again donít forget to actuate the hyd pump each time.) Things get real busy on a go-around.

As a normal rule, opt for a three-point landing and  slide your feet up high on the rudder pedals to give mechanical advantage on the brakes should they be needed. Actually, the only assumption you can make about a T-6 at all is that it is going to swerve one way or the other and you can't be sure which way. So you plan accordingly, getting your nerves and feet ready to handle whatever it dishes out. The results of a bad swerve can be really exciting-like crumpled wings, folded landing gear, etc.



Thanks to Budd Davisson for some of his insite.