August 10, 2012
The sun was just starting to rise over the eastern horizon when we arrived at Hutchinson County Airport in Borger, TX to continue our journey to Chino. After 7.0 hours of flying the previous day, we were nearly halfway there, and the weather continued to make us optimistic that we would make our final destination before sundown.
Normally a refinery does not make for the most picturesque sight but with the sun rising in the background and knowing it was producing the juice that would make our bird fly, it was a magical sight for me that morning. Before we strapped into our parachutes and climbed aboard the Texan I had to check out some airplane relics we saw while driving into the airport. Turns out there were nine Mig-23 carcases sitting on the tarmac. According to Ronnie, the Lineman at Hutchinson County Airport, they were bought more than seven years ago by a local who had a dream of refurbishing them. This morning it was obvious that dream had faded and these shells would remain stationary for years to come.
Our plan for Day Two was to fly mainly IFR, but not to be confused with Instrument Flight Rules, we were instead flying by the I Follow Roads (IFR) mantra. Borger is just north of Historic Route 66 (now Interstate 40 West of Oklahoma City) so shortly after departing we intercepted the highway and put it midway off our right wing where it would sit for much of the remainder of the day.
Fellow pilot, blogger and friend, Al Waterloo of SimpleFlight.net, says if he could teach students only one thing it would be to fly an airplane with two finger tips. He rightfully believes a plane should not be manhandled but instead gently guided which usually means becoming good friends with the trim wheel. On the first day I fought with the trim wheel and would put the plane through alternating parabolic curves as I tried to use the sensitive trim wheel to fly straight and level. It was somewhere over New Mexico that I finally think I figured out how to fly the T-6 Texan with two fingers.
As we approached Albuquerque we started to see our first mountains and true elevation growth. The Sandia Mountains just east of Albuquerque have peaks just under 10,000 feet high and provided for a great backdrop for some photos. When we arrived at Double Eagle II Airport, just west of Albuquerque, we landed at 5,808 feet, nearly 2,500 feet higher than the field elevation at Borger. As a result it was significantly cooler than it was in Texas which was a relief.
As we continued our journey westward we reached higher altitudes. On the first day 6,500 feet worked out real well for us. On our first leg of Day two, 8,500 worked fairly well but we then moved up to 10,500 feet as we progressed towards Flagstaff, AZ where the field elevation was 7,014 ft and with mountain tops were well above that. Flagstaff is home to Humphreys Peak, the highest point in Arizona at 12,633 feet, just 10 miles north of Flagstaff. Again I found myself giving Mike the plane so I could open my canopy open and start firing off shots from my Canon.
When flying to general aviation airports it is not uncommon to run into someone famous at an FBO as they await to depart on a private plane. That was the case at Flagstaff where I noticed six unusually large men who had to be professional football players. Although the Cardinals have their training camp in Flagstaff I did not recognize them so I could not confirm they were football players until Cardinal star wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald arrived. I must have been gawking because he walked right over and gave me a fist bump and then agreed to a photo (sadly it came out blurry). I thought they were going to board one of the jets on the tarmac but instead they squeezed these guys into a King Air which proved its performance capabilities when it effortlessly lifted these huge guys off the runway with ease.
Our second encounter with weather was a small cell of thunderstorms just a few miles west of Flagstaff along our route of flight. We monitored them and then decided we could deviate just south, then return to our intended course. As we skirted past the storms we saw a few strikes of lightning but were safely distant from the storm. At this higher elevation in the west the plane took its time climbing but Mike put his glider experience to work and found a thermal that helped us go from a 500 foot per minute climb to a 1,000 FPM climb with no additional strain on the 600HP Pratt & Whitney R-1340-AN-1 Wasp radial engine.
On the final leg from Flagstaff to Chino we overflew Kingman Airport which has an airplane boneyard on field mostly comprised of old DHL Aircraft. It was wild seeing the bright yellow planes lining the airport. I am not sure why but I am enamored by airplane boneyards and touring one is definitely on my bucket list.
As we continued southwesterly from Kingman we received the benefit of a strong tailwind, giving us nearly a 160kt ground speed. I realized I was secretly hoping the winds would die down as I was sad that the flight was coming to an end. As we approached Chino we again enjoyed majestic mountains with the Santa Ana mountains to our south and the Chino Hills mountain range to our north. We split them following highway 15 into Chino. What surprised me most was the odor when we opened the canopy over Chino. It was as if I was transported to Wisconsin as the smell of a farm was evident. When I looked down I learned that Chino is home to many cattle farms, not what I was anticipating.
Upon touchdown at Chino Airport, I looked out the window to see an L-39 Albatros roaring down the parallel runway. Seemed a good bookend to the trip since the first plane I saw in the Gauntlet Warbirds hangar the previous morning was an L-39.
We left the T-6 in the good hands of Encore Jet Service who would keep an eye on the plane for a few days until Greg Morris of Gauntlet Warbirds arrived later in the week to transport the plane up to Edwards Air Force Base where he will spend a few weeks instructing U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School students in the plane.
I thought the adventure was over but then learned that Planes of Fame one of two museums on the airport were offering a special talk on Saturday about the use of long range escort aircraft in World War II. After spending two days flying cross country in a WWII trainer I had an even greater respect for the brave men who flew in WWII. On Saturday we were able to hear two WWII pilots give their first hand account about their experiences flying over the European battlefields and the role that escort fighters planned in winning air supremacy.
It took us two days and 14.7 hours on the tachometer and 380 gallons of avgas to cover 1,600 miles from Chicago to Chino. The return flight on a Southwest 737 was just under four hours but I would take the low and slow route in the T-6 Texan anytime!
August 8, 2012
Last Thursday I kicked off my longest cross country since earning my private pilot's license in 2004. I joined fellow pilot Mike Meister at Gauntlet Warbirds at Aurora Airport, just outside of Chicago, where we launched in a T-6 Texan (SNJ-5) for a flight to Chino, CA.
The Gauntlet Warbirds hangar was a beautiful sight when I arrived. An L-39 Albatros, P-51 Mustang, SBD-Dauntless and a few T-6 Texan's in this hangar made it a pilots paradise. I looked in awe at the beautiful P-51 and though of a quote from Wilson "Connie" Edwards, an EAA Warbirds of America Hall of Fame inductee, who said "Start out in a Bearcat, transition to the P-51, and then you're ready for the T-6." The Texan has often been referred to as the Pilot Maker for its role in training such a large percentage of pilots from the Greatest Generation. I was honored and excited to get a chance to finally log some time in this plane.
After loading our route into Foreflight (see route) and checking the weather we were optimistic we could make the flight in two days. We originally allotted four days in case weather became an issue. Mike gave me a brief tour of the plane and discussed the internal and external pre-flight. We then donned parachutes, which would serve as our padding on the hard metal seats of the T-6, climbed in, and fired up the engine for departure.
Shortly after takeoff Mike gave me control of the airplane and I started to figure her out. Not long into the trip we crossed over the Mississippi River, a first for me in a General Aviation capacity. Our first stop for fuel and to stretch our legs was Rolla National Airport in Rolla, Missouri. This former U.S. Army Airfield still has a few aviation relics located on the tarmac including a former Army DC-3. Our visit there was brief as there were some storms approaching from the west, in fact a light rain started during our departure. Mike had brought along a Sporty's Stratus that provided in-flight weather updates to our iPad Glass Panels by way of Foreflight. Although these storms were rather isolated and small it was comforting knowing we had visual weather updates at our fingertips.
The next leg was a quiet one in which we did not encounter any traffic. The view below our wings showed a countryside that has suffered a double whammy of drought and higher than normal temperatures. Our next stop was Claremore, Oklahoma which was equally quiet until a Cessna 172 arrived from Wyoming. It was so nice to see others taking advantage of general aviation to see the country. It was hot on the ground at Claremore so we took our break in the air conditioned FBO.
Each time we checked in with air traffic control for flight following we would announce that we were a North American T-6. Turns out they don't encounter T-6s in the system often as each time the aircraft type would confuse the controllers who would ask again what type of aircraft we were sometimes several times. However, not long after departing Claremore and climbing past Tulsa International Airport, we were surprised to hear another T-6 on the frequency. Turns out it was a T-6A Texan II, the newer version of primary trainer, based out of Vance Air Force Base. They called us up on the frequency and asked if we were one of theirs to which Mike responded, "No ours comes with a tailwheel," which they seemed to get a kick out of.
Our last stop of the day was at Hutchinson County Airport in Borger, TX the home of a Conoco Phillips avgas refinery. It seemed appropriate that after burning nearly 200 gallons of fuel that we would land next to an avgas refinery. We had toyed with the idea of flying on to Albuquerque but since it was 106 degrees at Borger, and we would be flying into the sun on the next leg we decided to call it a night. Ronnie, the FBO Lineman, took great care of us with hotel recommendation and providing us with one of their crew cars for the night.
After my first seven hours of flying in the Texan I was thankful for the ability to crack the canopy. We would crack it below 3,000 feet during take-off and landing in case we needed to bail from the plane. But often even above that we would crack the canopy a little bit to keep the plane cool. Otherwise the glass cockpit would have served as an oven for much of the flight. I imagine our experience was not that different then the cross country flight this aircraft would have experienced when it was first delivered to the Navy in 1943, except maybe that we cheated a bit flying with the assistance of our Foreflight-enabled iPads and with the support of Sporty's Stratus, but who's keeping score?
I slept well after this long day but woke early in anticipation of our next leg of the flight. I will post updates from our second day of flying shortly. In the meantime enjoy the photos below from the first day of flight.
August 14, 2008
The 2008 Chicago Air & Water Show roared into town today. Military and civilian aircraft from all over the country began arriving this morning at the Gary International Airport where most of them will be based throughout the airshow.
Today at the airshow media day I had the opportunity to take a sneak peek at many of the acts, speak with some of the pilots, go for some rides and best of all fly the T-6 Texan! As I mentioned in one of my previous posts, one of the acts I am most excited about this year is Bill Leff's Night Airshow. His T-6 Texan is specially equipped with pyrotechnics so he can put on a thrilling unique night time airshow experience. In meeting Bill I learned that he is from Dayton, Ohio. I shared with him that I learned to fly in the Cincinnati and Dayton areas. After learning I was a pilot, Bill offered to let me fly the T-6 Texan when we went for a flight.
I had flown in a T-6 with the AeroShell team previously, though since they fly in tight formations there was no opportunity for me to fly. Shortly after getting airborne Bill told me the plane was mine. I flew us out to the practice area and performed a few turns and climbs. Once at the practice area he took over the aircraft to perform some aerobatics. We flew a variety of maneuvers but my favorites were the barrel roll and the loop. I love the power of the T-6! On the way back to Gary he gave me the plane back and had me fly us back until we were on short final where he took over the plane for landing. I had a great time talking to Bill and flying with him and am really looking forward to watching him perform on Friday night. If you are in the Chicago Area stop by the lakefront tomorrow night to see him perform.
As we parked the plane the Lima Lima Flight Team returned from a press flight. Sitting in the back seat of the lead plane was Florence Henderson (AKA Carol Brady from the Brady Bunch). Henderson will be singing the national anthem each day of the airshow. She was kind enough to take a photo with me (Available in slideshow below).
While standing there I learned there was a spare seat in one of Lima Lima's T-34s for their next sortie, so I jumped on that. Rick "Knuckles" Nichols took great care of me and gave a very enjoyable flight. We were in the seventh plane in an eight plane formation. During they show they will perform as a six-plane team, Nichols will serve as the team announcer during the show. Be sure not to miss Lima Lima's performances this weekend.
Throughout the day the Blue Angels were coming and going to do spot checks and practice flights over Chicago. I did not get to see a preview of their Chicago Show but did enjoy seeing a few maneuvers back at Gary. I guess it gives me something to look forward to during the next few days.
August 31, 2006
I have had some great aviation experiences over the past few weeks. I recently had the opportunity to fly with the AeroShell Aerobatic Team as they prepared for the 2006 Chicago Air & Water Show. The four plane team performs in their T-6 Texans, a plane used by the military to train pilots for World War II. The T-6 is a powerful single prop plane capable of inverted flight.
We took off in formation and flew out over Lake Michigan where we flew loops and barrelrolls. It was quite an experience flying inverted and flying a loop and I loved every minute of it. This was my second opportunity to fly with a performance team. Last year I flew in the backseat of of T-34, a plane used by the Lima Lima Flight Team. I uploaded some photos and video from the flight and from my time at the Press Day for the Airshow.
Just days after my experience with Aeroshell I was in beautiful Sedona, Arizona for vacation. While there, my wife and I visited one of the most picturesque airports in america, Sedona Airport (KSEZ). While there we could not pass up an opportunity to take in a flight in a Waco bi-plane and seeing the beauty of the Red Rocks of Sedona from above. This was the first time my wife or I had flown in a bi-plane. Like my flight experience with Aeroshell it was excellent. I have always enjoyed flying my Cessna with the windows open but flying in an open cockpit plane is a wonderful thrill.
With some of my aviation rides out of the way it is time for me to get back into the cockpit. This weekend I am scheduled for my first biennial flight review. During the biennial flight review I will undergo an hour of ground instruction followed by an hour of flight time in which I need to prove to a certified flight instructor that I still have the knowledge and skills to serve as pilot in command. It is an FAA Requirement that must be fulfilled every two years in order to continue to act as pilot in command of an aircraft.