In these difficult days, it is such a relief to report about a warbird adventure with a happy resolution. We thought our readers would enjoy hearing from John Hess about he and his wife’s recent acquisition of a long-dormant, prize-winning North American AT-6A Texan, and their valiant efforts to move the WWII trainer from her longtime home in Springfield, Missouri to the Hess family’s base near Atlanta, Georgia. Hess is no stranger to warbirds, having already restored a magnificent Beech AT-11 Kansan; 41-9486, the 50th example built and oldest still flying. Given such a pedigree of accomplishment, the Texan should have been a walk in the park…. right?
We will let John pick up the Texan story here…
The Grand Texan Adventure in Missouri!
by John Hess
I finally have time to post about our latest adventure… A few months ago, while volunteering for the The Liberty Foundation, my wife Fran and I were in Springfield, Missouri (SGF) with the B-17 Ye Olde Pub, along with John Shuttleworth, Mike Wilton and David Garrett. We needed a tow bar to move the P-51, so the airport ops guy suggested we use one from Nik Domann. Upon opening his hangar door, there sat a beautiful T-6 (minus engine) covered in dust. A closer look revealed that it was a very early AT-6A, Army Air Corps serial #41-153. Fran and I had always wanted a T-6, but she said she wouldn’t sell her Cherokee to make room for one unless it had WASP history. Researching this serial number showed that it was based in Stockton, California and Williams, Arizona during WWII – both WASP bases where they flew T-6s.
Nik and his family had owned this Texan for more than 35 years. It was a former Oshkosh Grand Champion. Nik somewhat fondly remembers all the endless hours of polishing he spent during his youth. Fran and I eventually made the deal, but then had to figure out whether to either make it airworthy, or disassemble it and truck it home. The engine had been overhauled, however that was over 20 years ago. But, the airframe was so nice we decided to build up a firewall forward QEC (quick engine change) at home in Georgia, and then install it on the airplane in Missouri. Rex Vaughan of Tulsa Aircraft Engines did an awesome job with the engine IRAN (inspect and repair as necessary). He shipped it to us where Steve Beck and I built it up for installation.
We spent a week installing all the accessories and as many of the components as possible, but the main work would be in SGF. On Saturday April 4th, 2020, Steve and I drove the 11 hours to Springfield and started the installation. We spent long days and nights installing all of the firewall bellcrank brackets, hanging the engine and propeller, installing and rigging all of the push/pull engine controls, and a hundred other pieces to the puzzle. Then we had to perform an annual for the airframe (technically a 100 hr inspection because the annual could not be signed off without the wing attach AD being complied with, which was not feasible onsite). Nik had to continuously escort us at the airport because SGF is a TSA airport. Thankfully Nik, and sometimes his brother Kyle or friends James and John would pitch in. Of course the CV-19 mess threw a couple of wrenches into our trip. While Steve, Nik and I were good at staying “Socially Distant” from the rest of the world, many times almost all of the local restaurants would be closed by the time we left the airport. We always worked without stopping for lunch.
Less than a week later, 41-153 was pulled out of the hangar for the first time in over 20 years. We had a couple little squawks, but within a few hours she was ready for a test flight. Like those of you who have flown a Texan, I will never forget pushing that Pratt and Whitney R-1340 up for the first time! Thanks to Christopher Cox and Robert Maximillian Maiden I had some back seat lessons, but this was my first in the front. I circled the airport a few times and then landed to check fluid and oil screen, etc. (incidentally, I’m thankful that T-6s are much easier to land from the front!).
Later that day I made Memphis, KNQA (Millington) before dark. Steve, driving the truck, arrived later that night. The next morning we uncowled her again and made it home that afternoon.
There are no words to express how grateful Fran and I are to Big Steve!! There are not many people that would or could do everything we did over these last few weeks. Now I just have to worry about whatever project he needs my help with because I won’t be able to say no!
Many thanks to John Hess for allowing us to reproduce his story and photographs here. We look forwards to hearing about more of his adventures with his new prize in the future, and hope you, our readers, have enjoyed following his story!