Reliving Yesteryear: August 7, 2004
Fifty-three years ago in 1952 I met my wife, the former Marlene Wagner, of Dexter, in the “boot heel” of southeast Missouri. At the time, I was an Aviation Cadet seventeen miles away at Malden Air Base, Missouri in primary Air Force Flying School learning to fly the mighty T-6 Texan – a 600 horsepower tail dragger aircraft we used to call a an airplane with a built-in ground loop. In those days, cadets went directly into the T-6 without having flown a less challenging trainer. Looking back on it, that was incredible. I soloed the T-6 in 23 hours, and accumulated something like 60 flying hours in the bird.
My last Air Force in the T-6 was in December 1952.
In February 2005 Marlene gave me a wonderful birthday present – a flight in a T-6 (now called a “warbird”) at Merrill Field in Anchorage. A gentleman makes a business in his T-6 traveling around the country selling front-seat flights in the T-6, and you get to fly it. The flight was scheduled for the summer.
On August 7th, I arrived at Merrill Field and climbed aboard the T-6 (this one blue, rather than the bright yellow like the T-6s I had flown in Cadets). I was “driving” from the front seat, the instructor (the “GIB,” or “guy in back”) in the back. On the way out to the flight area, the instructor asked me when I had last flown the T-6. I told him 1952, and he informed me that 1952 was the year he was born! How about that for making a “hot rock” pilot feel old!
Well, I’ve got to tell you, and yes it is bragging, that flying the T-6 after all those years seemed almost as if it were yesterday. Everything came right back! Throttle on the left, stick in the right hand, as God intended airplanes to be (not a wimpy control wheel). The instructor demonstrated a couple rolls, and then I did the rolls – getting better with each one. Then he said, “Let me demonstrate a loop” – but then said, “No, I’m not going to demonstrate it. You know how to fly this airplane, just do it on your own.” And yes I did. No problem. No sweat. After about an hour flight, we returned (in one piece) and landed at Merrill Field. “Cheated death one more time”!!! (as we used to say).
I would like to own a T-6, but it’s so gas thirsty I’d have to refinance my home every time I wanted to fly it. I’d also like to own the T-28, T-33, and F94C I used to fly. To bad that won’t happen.
A video with sound was made of the flight. One camera was mounted in the front cockpit, one atop the vertical stabilizer, and one on the right wing tip. The instructor pressed a button to record the various maneuvers. So now I have a “Hey, look at me” video to show off to friends.
When I returned from the flight, I felt more relaxed than I had all year. The flight came toward the end of a tough primary election campaign, and it was exactly what I needed. What a great great birthday present. Thank you Marlene.