By Dr. Lionel D. Alford,Jr.
I have my own company call sign. It’s Beech Test 123. I chose the number because 23 is one of the most important numbers in my life and the 1 is for Beech Experimental Flight Test. Today I didn’t get to use my call sign, but I was announced as Beech Test 123 for my role in the flight of the AT-6C. The flight was an FCF (Functional Check Flight) to check out the new propeller installation on the aircraft. You complete an FCF on an aircraft when some major component for flight has been changed or fixed. Engines and propellers are the usual suspects.
The AT-6C is the T-6’s older brother. It has a bigger engine, hard points, the brains of an A-10, and usually an EO/IR turret. This aircraft is a test bird (a production ready test vehicle) and didn’t have the turret installed for this flight.
I was in the back seat for this flight. I basically helped complete the FCF, then we continued on with a fam (familiarization) and qual eval (qualification evaluation) flight. The FCF was something else. I used to do this for a lot of aircraft in the USAF, but we usually didn’t handle an FCF with this much rigor. The check out was for the prop, but they also had a check of the pressurization and environmental system on the flight. That meant a ram dump of the cockpit before 19,000 feet and a repressurization after all the bells and whistles went off. First you feel like a squished frog, then you feel like a puffed up frog. We also had to complete a loop and then inverted flight for 15 seconds. They’re not really a big deal, but hey most people think they are–the 15 seconds for inverted flight is kind of a long time.
As soon as we finished the FCF, I took the aircraft and made some maneuvers. I mostly wanted to see how different it flew form the T-6. It has a feel that is very different than the T-6. Where the T-6 is like a dancer, the AT-6 is like a tiger. It flys perfectly for its role as a ground attack fighter: responsive and quick but smooth and lithe. It is just a touch heavier on the controls than the T-6 and that makes it perfect for accurate pointing and maneuvering down low. I tried some attacks on random pieces of the scenery for a while, then we headed toward Eldorado. I did an SFO (simulated flameout pattern) at Eldorado and a couple of patterns there, then we RTBed (return to base) to BEC (Beech Field). I did an overhead there and a couple of patterns. We made a full stop and that was all. A great flight. On Thanksgiving, I’m thankful for being able to fly the AT-6 what a great and fun aircraft. That makes 67 different aircraft I’ve had the opportunity to fly PIC (pilot in command).