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Warbird Flight Tops Sun 'n Fun for Sarah
Photos by Albert Still

      Right foot on the metal flange protruding from the side of the fuselage. One hand on the open canopy and one on the rear cockpit window frame. Left foot on the wing, push off, launch the body up and pull.
      Easy if you’re 17. Not so easy when you’re 71 – even if you do pump iron on a regular basis.
      Swing the left leg over the side of the cockpit and place the left foot on the seat. Follow with the right leg.
      Now you are standing on the seat, facing the tail of the World War II AT-6 trainer. Turn 180 degrees and sit down. Feet go on the metal tracks on the floor but NOT on the rudder pedals.
Mike walking Sarah through preflight procedures
      Left arm through the shoulder harness. Repeat on the right. Snap across the chest. Pull the leg straps over the upper thighs and snap together. Then connect the lower and upper metal fasteners.
      That took care of the parachute, which also served as my seat cushion on what otherwise would have been hard metal. I was surprised at how low I sat. I was aware of the combined smells of rubber and canvas, raw metal, leather, and the wind off the grass.
      After I was securely strapped into the airplane, Mike showed me how to close the canopy and instructed me to leave it open for takeoff. He handed me my earphones.
      To talk to Nathan, the pilot, I had to push the button on the throttle, located on the side of the cockpit near my left hand. “Talk directly into the mike,” he said. “Kiss it.”
      I did.
      Nathan was already in the front cockpit. Mike wished me a good flight, waved, and jumped off the left wing.
Sarah's ready for takeoff
      Now it was me, Nathan and the silver AT-6 Texan — the favorite airplane of so many of my heroines, the WASP.
      Engine start.
      Warned of the roar generated by the Texan’s 600-horsepower Pratt-Whitney engine, I had stuffed pieces of cotton in my ears to ward off the excessive noise.
      Nathan explained that we would fly straight out for 3 miles and then execute a 90-degree turn to the south. That would be followed, in time, by a 90-degree turn to the west and finally a 90-degree turn back to the north toward the airport.
      The tower cleared us for takeoff on 9 Right. I felt the power surge as the Texan strained forward. The trip down the runway was quick and we were in the air in no time. Smooth, very smooth.
Nathan moves onto the taxiway
      Oh yeah! Now the view. All that April green. All those little blue lakes. And so flat!
      Nathan was talking to me. I couldn’t understand him. I remembered the sound-deadening wads of cotton. Quickly I dug out both ears, resettled the earphones, and could hear just fine.
      Lesson number one: take out the protective wadding BEFORE you take off.
      Once we made the first 90-degree turn south, Nathan said the stick was mine.
      I’d never flown a stick aircraft before. Only a yoke. Gingerly I took a light hold on the stick between my feet and, using the needle and ball, tried to keep the airplane level. I barely touched the throttle. I recalled previous flight lessons when I held both the yoke and the throttle in a death grip. Today, I was determined to use a light touch. No sweaty palms, please!
      With Nathan leading the way and me following on the stick, we did some coordinated turns. They were coordinated because he was handling the rudders.
      When we turned west into the sinking sun, I could barely see in spite of dark glasses. Lesson number 2: ALWAYS wear a ball cap or visor when flying. My visor was back at the condo and I had left my big straw sunhat on the ground. Of course it would have blown off in the slipstream.
Coming in for a smooth-as-glass landing
      We turned north, and before I was ready, we were entering the pattern at a 45-degree angle to the downwind. I followed through on the stick as we turned on base leg. I thought we were too high, but as we turned on final, Nathan had the big Texan in a perfect glide and we descended, bleeding off altitude. I watched the end of the runway pass under the silver wings and barely felt the wheels touch as Nathan set it down.
      Just enough to whet my appetite.
      I don’t know how much I actually flew, but Nathan is going to add about 10 minutes in an AT-6 to my logbook. At least I can say I’ve done it! And I got the T-shirt.

Sarah's AT-6 experience was provided by Texan Flight.

©2008 Sarah Byrn Rickman. Site developed by Michael Colvin