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Flying the Pilotmaker: A ride in the USAF T-6A Texan II

Tupper in the T-6A 14 May 2009

For many of us, the initial thrill of aviation came from military aviation as it was portrayed in the movies and on television.  Many of us who followed that call to the airport and went up on our first few flights were practally overcome with newfound respect for military aviatiors.  In and among the noise and excitement, we rapidly became aware that aircraft don't fly knife-edge or move fluidly through all three axes all by themselves.  They require seriously skilled pilots who dedicate years of their lives to high-intensity training of a kind that most of us can only imagine.

I wondered a lot about what that training must be like.  Late last year, I put in a request to the USAF Air Education Training Command to see if I could get an idea.  After a few months of routing the request around and finding a home for it, I got the call in March and we scheduled for this past week.

Long story short, I have 1.4 hours of dual in my logbook in the mighty T-6A Texan II, the USAF's primary training aircraft.

The aircraft is a 1,100 hp, JP-8-drinking, four-blade turboprop.  Weighing around 6,000 pounds, it seats two in tandem (one in front of the other).  It's pressurized and you wear a full life-support system, including oxygen mask and gee-suit when you fly it.

Most Air Force pilot trainees arrive for Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training (SUPT) with either a private pilot certificate and maybe 60-200 hours or an Air Force -sponsored flight familiarization course under their belts.  Each canddate has all of the basics under his ot her belt and it's time to get into a reliable trainer that's capable of letting each experience (and master) the envelope of fixed-wing flight.

As I found out in the back of a T-6A ably flown by Maj Jarrett Edge of the 559th Flying Training Squadron at Randolph Air Force Base, the aircraft is ideally suited to its mission.  The mission profile started out with a series of stalls, went on to a demonstration of gee-force tolerance (verifying one's ability to withstand the inertial forces that force you into your seat and, at high levels of force, could cause you to lose consciousness), and then included a full compliment of aerobatics - Loop, chandelle, lazy eight, cloverleaf, split-S, Cuban eight, and others, concluding with a spin.  (You can look up the maneuvers themselves online if you're interested - suffice it to say that the demo consisted of most of the maneuvers that you'd see at an airshow).  

I'm writing this about 48 hours after the flight and I'm still chewing on my impressions of it.  I'll certainly be devoting several episodes of my show, Airspeed, to the flight, including some original music and photos and video shot and put together by Jo Hunter and Will Hawkins.  And I'll probably devote a couple of additional blog entries here on the AOPA Let's Go Flying site to it.

But, for now, I can tell you that, if you're thinking about flying for the US Air Force, you have a wonderful training aircraft and skilled instructors waiting for you.  The aircraft and the instructors will respond well to a competent pilot and will give you all of the horsepower, maneuverability, and systems necessary to let you become one of the best-trained pilots in the world.

More soon on the ride in this pilotmaker and the men and women who train and instruct in it!

76 Responses to “Flying the Pilotmaker: A ride in the USAF T-6A Texan II”

  1. I understand the T6A has about the same performance as a WWII P51D.

    I wonder what WWII types would think about "Undergraduate Pilot Training" in a Mustang.

  2. Jim McIrvin Says:
    May 22nd, 2009 at 8:11 am

    good publicity is always beneficial... so thank you. One relatively minor point of trivia (not so trivial if you are a student approaching USAF training and don't want to look silly) -- no USAF pilot uses 'gee' to describe the load factor placed on your body (and the aircraft) -- it is simply written with either a capital 'G' or lower case 'g' ... e.g., entry parameters for a loop in the T-38 Talon (in which I have 2500+ hours) are 500 KIAS with a smooth pull to 5g's.

    (footnote: the blogger may have gotten 'gee' from the physiologists who gave him life support training ---they are a vitally important part of flying high-performance aircraft, but don't always speak the same language as the pilots do)

  3. Don Lewis Says:
    May 22nd, 2009 at 8:29 am

    Below I've provided the correct URL for the T-6 fact sheet.

  4. Michael Rodriguez Says:
    May 22nd, 2009 at 11:33 am

    Good to hear from Jim McIrvin.

    Concerning the comment fom BillD, when I entered the Naval flight program in 1956, my first plane that I flew was an SNJ (the REAL Texan) which was the advanced trainer in WWII. From there they went to P51s, P47s P38s, etc. -- a somewhat similar aituation.

  5. A very nice description of riding in USAF's new UPT entry bird. Is it true that it has an automatic rudder trim, to counter torque from the PT6 turboprop engine? Anyway, it's good to see the professionals at AETC get some well deserved credit and exposure to the AOPA readers. They have trained tens of thousands safely over the years in a variety of aircraft. I flew my first jet, the "Tweet" (Cessna T-37) with them at Craig AFB in Selma, AL, converting JP-4 into noise. Fly Safe!

  6. Herbert Rakestraw Says:
    May 23rd, 2009 at 6:45 am

    Sounds like real fun I`d like a chance to check it out

  7. It was a great experience and Maj Edge and everyone else on the flightline was thoroughly professional. I have a little over an hour if in-flight video and audio to cut for two full podcast episodes - one audio and one video. And I'll probably be heading into the studio to record some original music for the episodes, too.

    Thanks for the great reactions! You're correct that AETC deserves a great deal of credit for what they do. Turning out the best-trained pilots in the world isn't just something that they paint over the door. They do it.

    (About "gee." I appreciate the comments. Always willing to hear stuff that will make me more authentic. I'm coming from a space/physics perspective, where most authors write in terms of "gee" instead of "G." At least it's spoken the same. Regardless of spelling, I really enjoy pulling them. Whether it's 9.0 in the back of Thunderbird 8 or 4.2 in the front of a Super-D, there's absolutely nothing like a little acceleration-induced force to quicken your heart rate a little. (And the rotating green-blue-green-blue out the window is pretty cool, too!)

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