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Flying High

There's nothing quite like being airborne in the cockpit of a plane—a warplane—to get your adrenaline going.

By May 2003Comments

The Yellow Rose.
Photograph by Virgil Belk

SETTLING INTO MY SEAT AS the pilots buckled themselves in, I shifted my gaze to the buttons and switches surrounding us and began to realize how complicated it was to fly this aircraft.

I was sitting inside the cockpit of the Yellow Rose, a B-25J Mitchell Bomber maintained and flown by the Yellow Rose squadron in San Marcos. The B-25, a medium bomber developed by North American, was flown during WWII. Through the course of fate, I had the opportunity to get a close-up, sneak preview of this war bird—and others—on the Friday afternoon before the Highland Lakes Squadron of the Commemorative Air Force sponsored its air show at Burnet Municipal Airport—Kate Craddock Field on Saturday, April 12.

During our flight, I was allowed to crawl up to the front turret for an amazing view of Central Texas. The nose held a machine gun and bombing equipment once operated by the bombardier. As I looked out at sparkling Lake Buchanan, the water so calming, it was hard to imagine this aircraft in combat. Behind me, the cockpit and the rest of the aircraft were invisible, outside my field of vision. I felt alone out in front, surrounded only by glass and the thin air beneath me. Once we were back on land, I was handed a paper towel to wipe down the oil thrown out by the engines during flight—a reminder, like the cockpit controls, that this graceful bird was a machine after all.

My next flight of the afternoon was in a T-28B Trojan first in production in 1950. I convinced myself that I wouldn’t need my parachute, even as I was briefed on how to use it. Even more helpful were the excellent instructions I received on climbing up to the T-28’s tall wing and settling into the cockpit. Peter Lagergren, the pilot, warned me that the T-28 was a fully functioning trainer, so the pedals, buttons, and switches in my back seat weren’t just for show. We took off in tandem with another T-28 that seemed to hang just a few feet off our right wing. It was a thrill to fly in formation—something I had never done before. I could see my neighbor pilot’s face like we were sitting in the same room. The pilots—both members of the Trojan Phylers, a flight demonstration team based in Fort Worth—maneuvered these planes beautifully. We circled the field and swung around for a flyover for the opening ceremonies of the bluebonnet festival in Burnet.

Air shows are a thrilling way to see history in motion. Check out the air shows at your local airport or go to confederateairforce.org for a summer schedule.

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