From the Cockpit Part 40: T-6 Texan

Ryan Flies


Editor’s Note: This is part 40 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.

For this next plane—the T-6 Texan—Rankin actually flew two variants, testing aerobatics in an SNJ-5 (variant for the US Navy) out in Yuba County, CA, and flying formation in a “Harvard” (variant for the British Commonwealth Air Forces) with Jacek Mainka over in Poland. Though technically different aircraft, both are solidly T-6 Texans and to count the two as separate flights for this year’s project would have been “cheating,” says Rankin. “It’s like Mitsubishi produces an SUV and they call it the Montero here and the Galloper in Mexico,” he says. “They’re interchangeable, and if you can fly one, you can fly them all.”

Easier said than done. Though first introduced in 1935 and quickly becoming a go-to advanced trainer for pilots looking to strap into a warbird like the P-51 Mustang or P-40 Warhawk, the Texan is a bit of a tricky flyer, leading to a popular joke amongst pilots, that the P-51 is actually a good trainer for the Texan. This trickiness is only exacerbated by the mental challenge of stepping up from the fabric-based basic trainers to a big lug like the Texan and its 42-foot wingspan. “This is the student’s first exposure to heavy iron,” says Rankin. “You look at it and think, ‘That’s a lot of airplane,’ and it truly is.”

It doesn’t seem to make sense on its face, Rankin admits, that a training aircraft for student pilots should be more difficult than an advanced warbird, but the reasoning is sound. “A training aircraft should expose you to difficulties,” he says, and demand proper basic technique is cemented in the student before moving on to other craft. More advanced planes make it “a little easier on the pilot,” in terms of the fundamentals of stick and rudder work, but also move faster and do more, meaning the pilot’s concentration necessarily shifts from basics to high-speed situational awareness.

Also a tailwheel craft with a center of gravity set a bit back along the frame, landing becomes particularly tricky, with many young pilots falling prey to the “ground loop,” where the rear of the plane swings forward after touchdown, causing one wing to dip into the ground as the whole aircraft wheels out of control. A common error for inexperienced pilots, “the ground loop is the reason insurance companies are hesitant,” says Rankin.

But once mastered, the Texan is a solid and versatile machine with a storied past. Rankin likens its toughness to the old reliable pick-up truck or tractor—the one that always gets the job done, even if it comes back with an extra ding or splash of mud. And to this day, if a pilot wants to fly an old warbird like the P-51 or P-40, insurance companies will not insure them if they do not have “100 hours at least” on a Texan. “And that’s an 80-year-old airplane,” says Rankin. “It’s just a testament to how good it is.”

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

Pictured: Ryan Rankin inverts the T-6 Texan on his latest flight. Photo courtesy of Ryan Rankin.

Ryan Flies

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