23 March to 20 April 2012
Okay, I’ve been bad. I’ve flown 10 times since I last gave you an update. I made 4 flights in the Baron to Muscatine (MUT) and back (AAO) and 6 fights in T-6s and AT-6s. In course of the flying, I had a revelation about my job. Its likely one of the few jobs you can do where you are evaluating science in an office setting with papers, plans, and ground experiments and then you go out and actually test exactly what you were studying in a living breathing laboratory in the skies. That’s really a fun job for any aerodynamic scientist.
I’m still building hours so the company can check me as a full blown engineering test pilot for the T-6 and AT-6 aircraft. During that time, I’ve flow production flight tests (QAI) and experimental flight tests. Mostly, I’ve jumped in the back to take data and get experience when I can. There is a lot to learn about the way you conduct the details of a QAI and about the aircraft in general. I’ve done all this kind of work before, but each aircraft is different and the testing requires great flying efficiency that can only be achieved through experience.
Some differences between the T-6 and the AT-6 are subtle and yet many are very obvious. The mission systems on the AT-6 are comprehensive and very capable. It isn’t a high performance attack fighter like the F-16 or the F-15, but it is very high performance in its class. It is likely the most capable 10,000 lb class fighter in the world and has more built in precision weapon capability than any aircraft. It has all the modern capabilities in a small form factor. Although it isn’t the kind of aircraft that will be flying the heaviest and most destructive weapons loads, it will inherently deliver weapons that larger fighter can’t imagine carrying. For example, it is the first fixed wing aircraft to deliver laser guided rockets and the delivery of Hell Fire class weapons will become its specialty. That’s the point of the weapon system–long loiter times with the capability to deliver a precision punch when necessary. It is also easy to fly and easy to use.
Easy to fly because it’s based on the T-6 trainer. Easy to operate because it has the brains of an A-10 and the easy of use of the best front line fighters. Most aircraft in the class of the AT-6 have stripped down weapons systems. The AT-6 has the most up to date systems imaginable. When you couple that with the easy of use of the T-6, you get an aircraft a pilot can depend on all the time.
The dependability of the AT-6 amazes me. I haven’t lost a flight yet due to any failure of the basic aircraft systems. The redundancy and the characteristics of the aircraft make it a dream to fly. Like I’ve written before, you feel like you can fly it with carefree abandon. A loop or a cloverleaf is a simple maneuver. A ground attack profile, preplanned or on the fly, is simple to set up and simple to execute. With the HOTAS (Hands on Stick and Throttle) controls, the pilot can control everything with ease. The power in the aircraft makes it a comfortable attack trainer and attack aircraft. Although it hasn’t been a real problem for me, I know the overall system has the inherent capability aviators describe as forgiveness. Even if you screw up an approach or landing, the aircraft has the capability to get a ham-fisted beginner out of a serious difficulty.
Some notes on the flights. I flew with a G-suit (fast pants) for the first time since Test Pilot School. My fast pants worked great–I was worried that time might have left them less than usable (you don’t need them for basic or advanced airwork, we use them to test the production aircraft). The AT-6 has a great mapping function that shows you charts and pictures like google maps (only better). I you need to go somewhere new, you just select the point on the chart (with HOTAS) and everything points you there–plus shows you where you are and all the important features along the way. Great flying and a great flying machine. I’ll try to give you more timely updates.