The trip started off with a possibility and a question - “If this other guy decides
not to go. . . are you interested in flying to Sun‘N Fun in the back of my T-6?”
Bruce Olson’s generous invitation was so typical of my aviation experiences. IF this happens are YOU ready for a spectacular experience? Hail yes I am!
My three amigos- pilots Bruce Olson and Dave Schmitz and pilot/passenger Leo Kurtz.
Plans A and B were to fly Bruce and Dave’s WWII vintage AT-6 aircraft all the way from Minnesota to Florida and back, dodging tornadoes, lightning, high winds and hail.
There was no Plan C.
Did we go through hail? No we did not! We left before it, skirted south of it, flew around it, waited for it to pass by and got out before it came through again. Hours of preparation were spent studying the maps and talking to the flight service. The Weather Channel was our must-see TV.
Everyone had a role to play on this adventure. Leo spent a good deal of his time navigating with the maps and sourcing out information, whether on the phone or online. He was our “Steady Eddy”, always one to count on for sensible commentary.
Dave’s Harvard Mark IV - The Purple Fox. This pride and joy took thousands of hours of restoration, thousands of dollars of Dave's money and the lake cabin to complete. Why a white and orange plane called The Purple Fox? Dave flew CH-46 helicopters in the HMM 364 Purple Fox Squadron, in Vietnam. The plane was going to be called "Ellen's Cabin".
The range of a T-6 varies, depending on the size of its tanks, the altitude it flies at, the efficiency of its fuel burn, etc. etc. and most importantly, the size of the passenger’s bladder. Our first stop was in Tom Sawyer’s hometown, Hannibal, Missouri.
Flying with a passenger in a T-6 is an act of faith. The passenger must have the usual faith that his pilot knows what he’s doing. The pilot, on the other hand, must have faith that his passenger won't grab or bump anything important during the flight. There are plenty of things to avoid, that’s for sure. Wrenching around in your seat to take pictures, adds another element to the adventure.
First night, Tullahoma Tennessee. Up in Illinois, the fog we flew around is still there, haunting the plains. In Minnesota, it's cold and starting to rain; we left just in time. This is Wednesday; on Friday, tornadoes will rip across Tennessee.
Tullahoma is the home of the Staggerwing Museum Foundation. They have a large collection of Beechcraft Staggerwings, including the first ever made and many other Beech aircraft. Stay tuned to for a full report at a later date.
Another day, another museum, this time the enormous and extensive National Museum of Naval Aviation in Pensacola, FL.
The museum’s P5M Marlin, which is about the size of the Queen Mary. It's ginormous!
More on this incredible collection in . . . yes!, another incredible essay.
From Pensacola, we followed the beautiful white sand beaches along the Florida Panhandle, and made the big turn down south into the rest of the Sunshine State.
My new lens brings new ideas into view when I notice our reflection in the shiny nose of Dave's plane.
My role on this adventure was to be the fresh eyes and ears-- to see the experience for the first time and remind the others what a great experience this was, and to hear the great old flying stories with an eager expectation. It’s my favorite role anyway.
We stopped at a tiny airstrip not far from our destination, Arcadia. There were sky divers flitting down in twos and threes and ultralights off in the distance buzzing along like little specks in the golden light of the sundown. It was truly magical.
There just aren't that many chances to shoot warbirds at night, this was exciting. All I had to do was pick the right exposure, hold the camera very still in a bobbing and bumping plane, frame up my subject and blast away until the strobe and the camera snap were on at the same time.
It never really occurred to me that VFR (Visual Flight Rules) would include flying at night. According to Leo, flying at night, is easier in some respects. There isn’t usually as much wind and the airports are easier to find. Still, it seemed like a hairy prospect to me and my admiration for the skill of the pilots only grew. Click on the link below to see the next episode in our adventure.