From the Cockpit Part 21: BT-13 Valiant

Ryan Flies


Editor’s Note: This is part 21 of an ongoing series documenting the flights of active-duty US Navy Pilot Ryan Rankin on his journey to fly 52 planes in 52 weeks through the year 2017.

Before going to South Carolina, Rankin had never heard of the BT-13 Valiant. A World War II-era basic trainer for the American military (the BT stands for Basic Trainer), this tail-wheel, single-propeller craft was a mainstay of the training program, as the second plane students mastered after the Boeing Stearman (From the Cockpit Part 2). From there, trainees would specialize according to their projected service—but all flew the Valiant. In its heyday, more than 9,500 were built, but fewer than 50 fly today.

Rankin found his Valiant sitting in a museum at the Dry Swamp Airport, hemmed in by exhibitions. “I thought maybe we weren’t going to fly,” he says. Enter Kurt von Graff, owner of the day’s Valiant, Dry Swamp Airport and the Dorothy Burns Aeroplane Museum, named for his late wife. Swinging wide the hangar doors and pushing the displays out of the way, von Graff rolls the plane right out of the museum and onto the grass and invites Rankin aboard. “And after,” says Rankin, “he just pushed it right back into its spot and closed up.” Many aviation museums boast working aircraft; Rankin can vouch for this one.

Taking to the skies in a plane affectionately known as “The Vibrator,” Rankin notices none of the supposed signature rattle, and the rather sizable aircraft—sometimes even ungainly on the ground—becomes a wonder in-flight. With von Graff riding tandem, the pair goes cloud-surfing—seeking out big fluffy clouds and dodging and banking around them like some great aerial obstacle course. Despite the size, the Valiant is “pretty zippy,” Rankin says, and a pure joy to fly. Relatively simple by modern standards but still a no-hassle machine, “I could just go fly an aircraft the way I wanted to fly it,” he says, “the focus being purely on enjoying the airplane and the experience.”

For more about the flight in Rankin's own words and a video of the flight, follow the link below.

Pictured: Ryan Rankin takes the BT-13 cloud-surfing. Photo courtesy of Ryan Rankin.

Ryan Flies

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