August 10, 2012
Flying the T-6 Texan Cross Country: Day Two - I Follow Roads
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!