I had been dating a woman named Kim for a few years before I started flight lessons. She was a member of the local aviation museum and was heavily involved with the airshow at the local airport. She worked with the pilots to be sure their needs were met: fuel, oil, maintenance, and food. She knew the local pilots very well.
I lived about 400 miles away, and I was only in town one weekend a month. The hope was my pilot’s license would be a way to get together more often. I tried to schedule weekends that were around aviation events. I had the chance to meet the leadership of the museum, various pilots, and other members.
I had about 25 hours logged, mostly with my instructor. One weekend Kim asked me to come visit when nothing was happening. I was surprised, but happy to see her anytime. I flew commercial on a Friday afternoon. We had dinner and a movie Friday evening.
Saturday, Kim told me she had to meet Bill, one of the local pilots at the airport. After breakfast we drove to the airport, and she brought a panel from an airplane in the backseat of her car. We drove up to Bill’s open hangar, where he was already working on his T-6, along with another person I didn’t know. Kim handed the panel to Bill and he got all excited about it: “This looks great! Thank you so much.”
Bill shook my hand and showed me the panel. It was a sub-panel for circuit breakers in the cockpit of the T-6 with some really nice graphics and clear lettering of what circuit breakers go in which hole. Kim was a graphic designer, and was able to get this panel as an example. Bill wanted all the panels in his T-6 to be upgraded similarly, and Kim got the job.
Bill said, “I guess I owe you a ride,” while looking at me. “Give me a couple minutes to button things up, and we’ll go.” I looked at Kim, and then I looked at Bill. He said, “Kim helped me out, so I promised to give you a ride.” Kim looked at me winked and then asked Bill where the rest of the panels were. He asked the other guy to grab the stack of aluminum off the bench.
Bill finished working on the plane, started up the tug, and backed it out of the hangar. The other gentleman got the towbar connected to the wheels, and then to the tug where Bill was. Bill carefully backed the T-6 out of the hangar and into the taxiway in front of the hangar. Finally, Bill and the other gentleman took the towbar off the plane, and moved the tug back into the hangar.
When Bill came out, he looked at Kim and said, “Did you see that?” pointing to the bottom of the wing. The lettering under the wing said “B.F. Goodrich.”
“All the details aren’t finalized, but they sent the lettering, so I put it on; isn’t it cool?” As an airshow pilot, having sponsorship is a way to help pay the bills, and this was his first.
Bill then handed me a parachute. Kim and Bill helped me put it on. Then Bill said, “We aren’t going to need it, but this is the ring you need to pull if we have to get out of the plane.” The other gentleman helped me get up on the wing and strap in. Then he checked on Bill to make sure he was strapped in good, and to check if he needed anything.
Bill started up the engine. The big Pratt radial was kinda smokey, and a little louder than the 150-horse Lycoming I was used to. Bill got ATIS tuned in quickly and I could hear it in my headphones. When I heard the altimeter setting, I set the value in the Kollsman window and set the DG to the compass heading. The T-6 is a tandem cockpit and, riding in the back, I had my own instrument panel.
We taxied to the runway and Bill called the tower: “Ready for takeoff.” We rolled onto the runway and Bill pushed the throttle forward. At about 500 feet, he asked, “Do you want to fly?”
I said, “Sure!” We were going about 140 in the climb, and I was thinking, I’ve never flown at 140, this is fun.
We got to about 4000 ft. and Bill said, “Level off at 4500.” I did my best to not overshoot it, and Bill pulled the throttle back at about 4300 to help.
Bill had me turn a little to the left to get out over a clear field, then he said, “I got the plane.” He did a couple of clearing turns, and then pitched down a little to get some speed up. Then he said, “We are going to do a loop here—look up and make sure I stay on the line.” Not knowing what that meant, or having never flown in a loop, I really had no idea what was about to happen. Bill pulled up, and I was looking up. I could see a plowline on the ground that I could keep an eye on.
Once inverted, it was amazing how the plane stayed right on the line. As we came down, I could see the plowline straight down the middle of the canopy. When we leveled out, Bill said, “How was that?” All I could say was “amazing.”
Bill said, “How about a barrel roll?”
“Sure,” I said. Again, Bill pitched down slightly, then pulled up and rolled to the right. It was a big, gentle roll, smooth as can be.
We did a couple more barrel rolls and Bill said, “Do you want to try?” I said no. He then asked, “Can you get us back to the airport?” I said, “I don’t see it.” Bill said, “It should be on about a heading of 200; it’s your plane, I’ll run the throttle and gear.”
We were on a heading of 290, so I turned left. I was amazed how the rudder pedals work. There is a heel rest, so my feet were off the floor. It takes no pressure to move the rudder and I was keeping the ball centered. We were in smooth coordinated flight and I was going about 150kts—faster than I had ever gone before. About five miles out, Bill called the tower and let them know we were heading in. He told me to get down to about 2000-ft. pattern altitude.
We came in on a 45-degree downwind and I assumed Bill would take the plane any second. The plane was in tight on downwind. Bill finally said, “You are doing great, get ready for base, start heading down.” I was thinking, all 25 hours of my flying, and this guy trusts me?
We were heading down and I felt the second notch of flaps. I started turning final and Bill asked, “You are doing fine, do you want to land?”
I said, “I don’t think I can.” Bill was reassuring: “Hold on, I’ll walk you through it.” He did all the movements and we did a super nice wheel landing.
As we taxied to the hangar, Bill asked if I thought Kim would enjoy a ride. I said, “Absolutely.” When we got to the hangar, he told me to jump out and give Kim my parachute. I did, and told her Bill was taking her for a ride. She climbed in and went for a similar flight.
I hadn’t brought my logbook with me, but when I got home Sunday evening, I entered the time in my logbook. I knew it wouldn’t apply to a rating, but it was just a good experience and a great memory. When I went for my next flight lesson, my instructor had a million questions about my experience.