It was a beautiful sunny Saturday morning
when I arrived at
the Southern California Wing of the CAF in Camarillo. The day had
that I had been anticipating for a number of months. I wanted to do
unique and fun for my birthday and so I planned well in advance to get
in a vintage WWII trainer, the SNJ-5. The SNJ-5 is the US Navy version
North American AT-6 Texan advanced trainer. There are no visible
between the two aside from the markings.
After saying hello to some of the folks I have known from being around there for years, my pilot, Terry Cedar came out to greet me. Until that time, I was unsure who would be taking me up. I was confident that whoever it was would give me an experience of a lifetime, and I wasn’t wrong. Terry asked what I wanted in the flight. I was a little unsure of what the options were, so we discussed and came up with a plan.
I went in to the hangar to change lenses on my camera and make a quick pit stop before heading out to the ramp to meet up with Terry. He helped me get strapped in and went over the safety briefing. He gave me instructions on what to do if we had to bail out of the airplane and how to go about it. This part is always a bit unnerving to me because the last thought on my mind was ever having to do that. But, he advised, unless it was a huge fire or catastrophic failure of some sort, it is safer to ride it down. Obviously, it was the choice for both of us to have a safe and fun flight!
I sat back and
looked around from the rear seat as Terry ran
through the preflight checklist. I took in the sense of history and
myself of the thousands of young men who had sat in this position over
years. Most WWII pilots have at least a few hours in a T-6/SNJ.
since have as well. Over 17,000 of these aircraft were built and today,
1,000 are still flying! Those thoughts were interrupted by Terry
“Clear”. The Pratt and Whitney engine roared to life seconds later. I
canopy back and closed as the engine warmed up and we got clearance to
the warm up area.
Ready to go out to the taxiway.
We taxied along,
wagging the tail left, then right. Like
other tail draggers, the T-6 has no forward visibility, so you have to
while shifting the tail from left to right and back again to be able to
ahead and make sure the way is clear. We lined up on the warm up pad
ran through another checklist and warmed the engine oil to the proper
temperature, checked the prop and magnetos and a number of other things
sure that all was in working order. Safety is always the prime concern,
part not functioning properly would cancel flying, and rightly so. I
the scene and looked at a vintage Temco Swift next to us performing
Out on the warmup area. A classic general aviation airplane, a Temco Swift, performs his warmup on our port side.
checklist done, we got clearance to taxi and hold
at runway 26. We watched a general aviation aircraft land and another
him turn away. We were cleared for takeoff! We rolled onto runway 26
applied power. The engine roared as we accelerated down the runway. I
tail lift and in no time, we were airborne. Terry retracted the gear as
climbed away from Camarillo airport heading west. As we climbed, Terry
over the controls and had me maintain the climb. I was flying the plane!
Holding position before runway 26 for inbound traffic, to the right a just below the center of the image.
After gaining a little altitude, I could feel what the air does to a plane. There were minor shifts in all three axes that required gentle stick correction to keep the plane straight and level. Terry let me develop the feel for it and told me I was doing great. I was grinning like the Cheshire Cat. I soon realized that there is quite a bit of work to this. I was looking outside while scanning the gauges on and off as well to make sure that things were in order. I am sure that pilots with experience develop a feel for nose position (degree of climb or descent) and the like, but I was still new to it. Once I got the feel for it, we worked on turns. A gentle push of the stick left or right will get you banked and turning, but there is also rudder force that needs to be applied to make the turn smooth. Left bank, left rudder, watch the ball in the turn and bank indicator gauge and try and keep it in the middle. Then there is coming out of the turn back to straight and level flight.
Now it was time
to apply those lessons. Terry called out the
compass direction and altitude that he wanted me to get to. Now it was
balance of right turn, right rudder, then drop the nose, lose a little
and level out. I was doing all of this while keeping an eye on the
wasn’t pretty, but I got us there. As I leveled off, Terry announced,
it. Good job.”
Instrument panel in the rear cockpit of the T-6 that I was in. Spartan compared with modern airliners, but everything you need is right in front of you.
previously flown briefly in a Cessna 150, 172 and
a big Antonov AN-2 Colt, I was fairly easy on the controls and taking
lightly. I know the T-6 is a responsive aircraft capable of aerobatics,
that is well beyond my skills. Terry took control and gave me a
of what the airplane could do. He did a good scan of the skies to make
were clear of any traffic, then a quick yank of the stick and we were
in a 60
degree tight left turn that felt like a 90 degree bank! I felt the G
pushing me into the seat as the turn progressed through 360 degrees. A
level off then climb as I felt pushed into my seat yet again after a
respite! At the top of the climb, Terry pushed the nose over into a
maneuver. I suddenly felt very light and watched my camera float in
front of my
face! I reached out and grabbed it as the G forces stabilized. Just in
Terry executed a barrel roll before I knew what hit me. “Woo-hoo!” was
could say. He leveled off and asked how I was doing. Then it hit me, a
queasiness. I let him know and he mercifully said that we would skip
Over Oxnard California. I will always remember this city as the place where I got queasy at about 3,000 feet!
that I slide open the canopy a bit
to let some air in. I pulled down on the latch and cracked it open. A
of fresh cool air swirled into the rear cockpit with me and I felt a
better. Terry looked back at me and gave me a grin. Then, knowing that
help to get my mind off of my queasiness, he gave over control of the
again. We took a nice easy route back toward Camarillo as I descended
the airport. I had to keep a constant eye on the climb/descent gauge,
wanted to put the nose up. The rate of descent was a little more than I
used to doing, but Terry again gently guided me through it. As we
the airport for the turn onto final, I handed control back to Terry to
pictures of our descent and landing.
Camarillo Airport, approaching from the east.
Terry put us
down on the runway in what could be best
described as smooth. I could tell that he was a veteran with this
airplane as I
didn’t feel a bump or lurch on landing, just a smooth transition from
ground. My lesson wasn’t over yet. Terry had me work the rudder to taxi
the CAF ramp. He gave the instruction “Left rudder..more…stop…right
rudder…stop” and so on as we rolled down the taxiway. We pulled into
ramp, swung the tail around and shut down the engine. Some of the
and ground crew came out to meet us and put the chocks down. I got my
in the cockpit before climbing out and back on the earth again.
Not looking too much the worse for wear after landing.
It was a great
experience and I had a lot of fun. Terry is a
great pilot and a wonderful instructor. I want to thank Casey DeBree,
Goubitz, Al Kepler, Jason Sommes, Terry Cedar and everyone down at the
keeps these planes maintained for making this birthday very special for
was an experience that I will never forget. Keep 'em flying.
The Southern California Wing of the Commemorative Air Force's hangars at Camarillo airport.