The T6 Texan or Harvard is a heavy piece of metal with a fair amount of attitude. Its strong body language suggests that if you fly like a “Wussy” you better go fly something else. With its 550 Horsepower Pratt and Whitney engine it’s a great gateway trainer for heavier WW2 type warbirds.
I was fortunate enough to first fly it after I had accumulated a fair amount of time on other taildraggers, and even then, it felt intimidating. I can only imagine how it must have felt for an 18 year old pupil pilot getting into an aeroplane for the first time.
Starting her up is the hardest part
Starting her requires a bit of dexterity, and for the first few starts you will feel like you need an extra hand. Once you have set the brakes to on, you hook your right leg around the stick and use your leg to hold the stick fully back.
With the mixture fully rich, pitch fully coarse and the throttle cracked a quarter inch or so you can start wobbling the manual fuel pump which is located slightly forward and below your left thigh.
Once you have acquired fuel pressure, you need to maintain the pressure by continuing to wobble the pump while at the same time priming. Once the priming is complete, maintain the fuel pressure and engage the starter motor. As the oil pressure rises you can move the pitch to fully fine and gently throttle back to idle. She will “splutter and fart” a bit during the start cycle but eventually smooth out. Set 1000 RPM when the start is complete. Hardest part over!
For take-off get the cards stacked in your favor
Taxying requires small rudder inputs to keep her straight, but none the less you need to be pretty cat foot.
A Harvard has a lot of inertia, so once getting her going in a direction, a bit of effort is required to stop her from going in that direction or changing her direction completely. If you are not paying attention and let her stray from the path you are going to have a tough time bringing her back in line.
For take-off get the cards stacked in your favor. Make sure you have her lined up straight and that you are sitting as high as possible. There are adjustable seats in the Harvard, and although I am fairly tall, I always have my seat set at the maximum up position. This gives me good forward visibility for taxi, take-off and landing.
Open the throttle carefully with a count of 4. If you whack the throttle open to quickly, she will splutter and cough and the engine may even cut.
Small rudder applications are required to keep her straight as she gently accelerates down the runway. Despite having a 550-horsepower engine she is somewhat under powered and is not considered a high-performance war bird.
At 40 knots you can raise the tail. A slight swing to the left due to gyroscopic precession can be expected which is easily countered with right rudder. Rotate at 70 knots. After you are safely airborne, cleaned up and climbing away, climb power can be set, which is 26 inches, 2000RPM.
Aerobating the Harvard
Basic aerobatics being loops, barrel rolls, straight rolls, Cuban eights and spins are inside the Harvard’s envelope. This made the Harvard a great basic trainer for pilots in the South African Airforce.
Being a heavy taildragger, slightly underpowered and having fairly complex systems, especially for a person who has never been in an aeroplane before.
A pilot having completed a 200-hour wings course on a Harvard could rest easy knowing that he had been given a really solid foundation and a skill set that would serve him or her well in their future endeavors in aviation.
Landing the Harvard
When landing a Harvard there are two options, the wheeler or the three pointer. It seems that wheelers are the choice of most pilots, three pointers being done on occasion for fun or practice. I’m not sure why this is? I was told the reason years back and have forgotten.
The wheeler technique is pretty straight forward. arrest the rate of descent by leveling off just above the ground, chop the power and slowly increase the angle of attack as the speed bleeds off.
Let her settle before the angle of attack becomes to great causing you to land in the three-point attitude. As the main wheels touch, check forward on the stick. More and more forward stick will be required to keep the tail up as the speed bleeds off. Eventually the tail will start coming down regardless and you can relax the forward pressure.
This is when the shit usually hits the fan. As the tail comes down the nose swings to the right. Again, this is caused by gyroscopic precession. With the low speed and the engine at idle, your rudder isn’t as effective as on the take-off roll.
You need to really have your ‘finger out’ as a lot of pilots have let a Harvard get away from them at this point of the landing roll. Some manage to bring it back from the brink of a ground loop, others don’t.