Guest Column - Flight of the Imagineer
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Bob Gurr joined the Walt Disney Company in 1954 doing drawings for the Autopia and the Main Street Vehicles. Since that time he's gone on to play a part in the design of "just about anything with wheels" including the Atomoble for Adventures thru Inner Space, the Doombuggies for the Haunted Mansion, the Matterhorn, the Motor Boat Cruise, the Flying Saucers, the Monorail and much more. He also was instrumental in the development of the Mr. Lincoln Audio-Animatronic figure.
In the past we've exchanged emails and phone calls with
Bob for several articles. Recently he wrote us and asked if we wanted to publish an
article of his. In addition to being a designer, Bob Gurr is a self-described "Plane
Nut" and has been a glider pilot for 40 years. So when an Imagineering legend asks
you if you'd like to publish reports from two of his adventure flights, you don't say
"what's that got to do with Disney?" You just say "Yes!". I'm sure
many of our readers will find this enjoyable, I know I did.
-- Doobie Moseley
The view from the cockpit window was typical Florida; blue sky, scattered clouds, and pine forest with reflective lakes from horizon to horizon.....except the lakes were on top and the sky on the bottom. Our 600 horsepower Pratt & Whitney 1340 cubic inch radial engine rumbled soothingly as we hung upside down for a few moments before the scene rotated back to the familiar right side up view.
This dramatic Florida scene whirled and spun all about the famous World War II Fighter-Trainer, the North American T-6/SNJ-6 as I flew loops, barrel rolls, and wingovers under the watchful eye of my back seat instructor, Jay. Warbird Adventures, Inc. at Kissimmee Airport near Walt Disney World provides "Orlandos Ultimate Experience", and Jay was making sure I was getting it all.
After riding the front seat of the Universal Studios Islands of Adventure Hulk Roller Coaster, I was ready for more. The Hulk squirts you to 40 MPH in 2 seconds at the top of the lift right into a 360 ° barrel roll. But with Warbird Adventures, you get to do the roll yourself at the controls of this 55 year old classic aircraft.
After being strapped with a parachute into the front cockpit, Jay had me help him start the engine as he stood outside on the wing. Switching on the ignition as the starter cranked, the big engine boomed to life inside a cozy hanger. Jay soon joined me in the rear cockpit and we were off to the main taxiway. Having only had 80 horsepower tricycle gear motorglider experience did not stop Jay from insisting that I was to taxi this big 5,000 lb machine to the runway.
Zigging and zagging right and left down the taxiway, peering around the big engine pointed way above the pathway ahead turned out to be quite easy. After performing the engine runup, the aircraft maneuvered easily with the individual toe brakes and the swiveling tail wheel.
Jay said to line up on the runway. My gosh, I was actually going to aim this giant straight ahead by peering over the side as he poured on the 600 horsepower. In moments Id raised the tail up so I could actually see where I was pointed and lifted off the runway. I was actually flying the great T-6 Warbird......yahoo!
Raising the landing gear to climb at 120 MPH, the aircraft immediately felt solid and responsive. I had expected the control forces to be high, but found the three axis controls to be nicely balanced. The pitch trim is very effective and only requires a tiny touch to obtain hands off stability. Soon we reached the practice zone at 6,000 ft. about 15 miles south of Kissimmee so we could start the real fun.
I began a series of right and left turns, gentle at first, then up to 80 degrees of bank. The big ship just felt so predictable and seemed instantly willing to do anything you ask. After some rhythmic lazy "8"s, I was ready for the good stuff. Jay demonstrated a 90 degree wingover as I followed thru. Then I did one, just nibbling at the stall as we were at minimal speed at the 90 degree point. By unloading the wing just slightly, the ship stayed in control with ease.
Next came the loops with no demonstration first. Pushed over in a shallow dive to 180 MPH, a steady light pull brought the nose right up and over on its back. Ease off gently and we rounded out back to horizontal flight. Another loop.....wow this could be very addictive. Jay again told me what to do to perform a barrel roll. 160 MPH, nose up a bit, lots of left stick and around she g 6oes right back to level. I did another just to see if it really was that easy.....it was. These were the first barrel rolls Ive ever flown. Im 68.....I shoulda done this long ago.
And long ago, Americas thousands of fighter pilots learned their skills in this wonderful trainer, as did other pilots in many countries. First conceived in 1934 by famed Douglas designer Dutch Kindelberger as he joined the fledgling North American Aviation Company, the NA-16 evolved over the next dozen years in numerous variants. Once sold as surplus for $1800, the SNJ/T-6 Texan is cherished today as the Classic Warbird by hundreds of delighted owners who value their beauties at $ 125,000 and up. Over 14,000 were manufactured. Warbird Adventures provides a stimulating contact with what Americas war effort was like for todays newer generation.
Jay had me nose the ship over into a 200 MPH descent back to the airport where he did the military 360 degree overhead approach as I lowered the gear. What a great safe way to land. If the engine stopped, youd just continue the circling turn power off right down to the end of the runway, roll out level and land.
The 30 minute adventure ended back inside the tiny hanger as the propeller turned its last revolution. But my heart was still revolving in joy. Its a joy I can relive anytime since Jay had made a 3-camera video to go along with the still shots he took of the entire flight. If you are ever in Kissimmee Florida, dont miss the one attraction that beats all the others in the land of Walt Disney World.
Warbird Adventures, Inc. 233 N. Hoagland Blvd. Kissimmee, FL 34741 (407) 870-7366 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Bob Gurr in the front
seat of the Warbird