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Difficult or Just Different? (Budd's article in SEP '23 SPORT AVIATION)

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RickRice

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Great article. As with everything Budd writes, it's worth reading and I suspect there will be a lot of head nodding from this crowd. The reason for this post is because Budd's article reminded me of a conversation I had with Bob Gilliland, the first test pilot on the SR-71. Robert J. "Bob" Gilliland – Robert J. “Bob” Gilliland

I was fortunate to get to have lunch with Mr. Gilliland when he was back home visiting friends in Memphis. He was really friendly and took time to answer all my questions, one of which was, "What's the most difficult airplane you've ever flown?" He paused for a few seconds and then said he thought it was a North American AT-6. I was really surprised when he said that, mostly because I've flown a T-6 and I'm certainly not an upper echelon aviator. Since I was surprised by his answer, I asked him WHY he thought the T-6 was the most difficult airplane he's ever flown. He didn't hesitate at all that time. He said, "I learned to fly in a T-6. Everything was new to me and the learning curve was pretty steep. After I learned to fly that one, the rest of them worked pretty much the same way!"

Daddy instructed in T-6's during the Korean War after flying combat in B-24's with the 2nd Air Division, 8th Air Force out of England. He went through Primary in Stearmans, Basic in BT-13's and then transitioned half-way through to UC-78's, and then flew AT-9's in Advanced. When he was instructing in T-6's, the T-6 was a PRIMARY trainer. The washout rate was very high, and many of the students who made it got extra-curricular FAA training from FBO's to get the basics. The T-6 was just too advanced for most folks with no experience to learn in. I guess Mr. Gilliland was one of the gifted ones who was able to learn ab initio in a T-6, but looking back on his comment about it being difficult to fly, knowing what I know about how few made it through Primary in a T-6, it makes a lot of sense.

The final part to this post is that I once asked Daddy why he got a job instructing during the Korean War instead of going overseas. He unhesitatingly told me he'd already been shot at and he thought it was someone else's turn. He then grinned a little and said that if he'd known how challenging the job was going to be, he might have chosen combat duty again. He said the mission rate was slower than instructing and he said teaching newbies in T-6's was probably more dangerous! He said the worst situation was when he had student lock up on the controls in a T-6G. The student wouldn't release the controls and was frozen with the stick full-back and and full rudder being held. Daddy said he was pushing forward on the stick as hard as he could and he couldn't get it to budge. He said he was telling the cadet that if he didn't stop fighting him on the controls they were going to die because they were too low to bail out. When the kid finally let go of the stick, Daddy was pushing forward so hard that his stick slammed hard enough against the stop that it cracked and had to be replaced.

Daddy was NOT a fan of the T-6G. He loved the earlier models, but said the addition of all the radios that were added aft of the rear seat in the G-model contributed to an aft CG that made the airplane much less desirable in his opinion.
 

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