Getting back in the air again

Published 10:04 am Friday, June 26, 2015

Last week did something I haven’t done in several years.

I went flying, not in some small plane, but in a piece of World War II history, the Southern Heritage Air Foundation’s AT-6 Texan.

It began with a text from SHAF president Patty Mekus asking if I wanted to fly in the foundation’s P-51 Mustang, Charlotte’s Chariot II. My response was simple, “You have to ask?”

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In my 40-year career, I’ve flown in a lot of planes for stories, including a blue and yellow F-18 Hornet, fulfilling a childhood dream of flying with the Navy’s Blue Angels. I didn’t get to fly with the team, but my media flight with one of the team’s pilots was an overwhelming experience that the tape they gave me showed. A flight in one of the greatest of World War II fighters of all time would be icing on the cake.

Unfortunately, the P-51 was undergoing maintenance and unable to fly. And while I wanted to experience the sound and feel of the Mustang’s Packard-built Merlin engine, flying the Texan was not a disappointment. Known as “The Pilot Maker,” the AT-6 has the distinction as the first plane to fly into the eye of a hurricane, when Lt. Col. Joe Duckworth flew one into a storm off the Florida Coast in 1945 (the reason behind that flight is a story in itself).

Besides, I had a personal connection, not with the SHAF Texan, but the AT-6. My godfather, my father’s oldest brother, flew transports during World War II and trained in an AT-6. As Dan Fordice said during our flight, “If you flew in World War II, you trained in an AT-6.”

And I enjoy getting up in the air, whether in a plane or a hot air balloon. It gives you a whole new perspective in the world as you cross the sky and examine the scenery below.

My flight was nothing fancy. It was flyover for the start of the Y Men’s golf tournament at the Vicksburg Country Club, but Dan’s instructions before we took off were a bit sobering, especially when I received instructions on using my parachute.

“Have you ever jumped out of a perfectly good airplane?” he asked as he went over the bailout procedure. “Well, you won’t today, but remember, this plane is 70 years old. If you see me get out of the plane (in the air), you’d better follow.”

Outside of a hard turn after the flyover, the flight was uneventful, the scenery from the air fantastic as usual, and we returned to Mound, where the Texan again joined the other planes on display at SHAF, which has become more than a place to show and store vintage aircraft. It has a World War II museum that is a rare treasure in this area.

It won’t compete with the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, but it gives local residents a lesson in history everyone should learn. The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and it’s free. It’s worth a trip.

Thanks again, Patty and Dan, for the invitation and the flight. It was a wonderful experience.

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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