Fly Right, Fly Tight!

T6 Texan Formation Clinic Deep in the Heart of Texas

T-6 Texans fly formation at the annual Texan Roundup. Photo by Gary Daniels.

By Gary Daniels

In the Texas hill country lies the historic old German community of Fredericksburg, a tourist destination for folks from Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, and Houston seeking good food, shopping, and a little peace and quiet from the rat race of the big city. But on the last weekend in April each year, Fredericksburg wakes up to the sound of radials rumbling over the city. Many of the town folk and tourists make their way to the local airport wondering if an air show they haven’t previously heard about is underway. What they find is a scene reminiscent of a busy World War II training airbase: twenty some-odd vintage T-6 Texan variants being readied for flight, props turning through, aircraft taxiing out and four ship groups launching from the 5000 x 75 feet of pristine concrete of Gillespie County Airport (T82). What they are witnessing is the annual Texan Roundup, a gathering of pilots, and Texan friends, spending a weekend sharpening their formation flying skills, talking airplanes ad nauseam, and enjoying great food with good friends at this perfect aviation venue.

Gordon Richardson is responsible for “riding herd” on the Texan Roundup. He and his father, Gordon Sr. and brother, Randall, are long time T-6 owners. The concept of a formation-flying clinic for Texan owners began in 2007.  These vintage warbirds are constantly asked to fly at airshows, Memorial and Veterans Day flyovers, and special events. Texan owners also enjoy keeping the history of these aircraft alive with younger generations.

The best way to show the aircraft is to fly the aircraft, and even better, fly the aircraft in formation flights. So, the importance of being rated to fly formations, and fly safe formations, is paramount. Gordon, along with other Texan owners, realized there was not a venue for a weekend long training to provide recurrent training for a wingman or lead, or to produce a new formation-rated wingman or lead pilot. Texan owners also have an added incentive to be formation rated since they have an abundance of similar aircraft to fly formation. For example, it’s difficult and very expensive to get a formation of P-51s together. But, there are many T-6s that can gather for events and being formation-rated makes the experience for the pilots, and spectators, that much more special.

With its exceptional airport and expansive surroundings, Gordon knew Fredericksburg would be the optimum location for a formation-flying clinic. Gillespie County Airport, on the southwestern edge of town, has a large tarmac with a long and wide runway to handle many aircraft. After takeoff, a training flight is just minutes away from one of the four practice areas over the gorgeous Texas hill country. Plus, the Hangar Hotel and Airport Diner are on the airport property and are a pilot’s dream with impressive accommodations. What could be better than waking up in a great hotel just a couple of hundred feet from a big breakfast and your dew-covered aircraft? So, with the perfect location determined, the first Texan Roundup was held in 2008.

On April 28-30, 2023, more than 20 Texan variants attended the 14th Annual Fredericksburg Invitational Texan Roundup. Most are from all points across Texas. Others arrive from the surrounding states. Thursday is a day of arrivals, comradery, and a great dinner at one of Fredericksburg’s fantastic restaurants.

On Friday morning, Mike Hastings, North American Trainer Association (NATA) check pilot, conducted a 2-hour formation-flying ground school following the Formation And Safety Team (FAST) protocols. The plan was to launch training flights quickly after the ground school, but the weather proved to be a challenge for this clinic. A strong system was moving across Texas with winds hard out of the west, causing an out-of-limits crosswind canceling training for Friday. By late Friday afternoon, severe storms started to form to the west which caused a mad dash to find hangar space across the airfield to tuck away all the aircraft. The airport FBO and local hangar owners came to the rescue and found space for all 20-plus warbirds. And the annual Friday evening banquet, where the absolute best German food is always served, was moved indoors so that no one would have soggy brats or schnitzel.

Saturday was a beautiful, but windy day. Fortunately, the wind was just a few degrees out of the northwest creating a slight crosswind. Not an issue for this group of pilots. Hastings, Jay Consalvi (NATA check pilot), and Richardson paired up instructor and student teams for the day’s schedule, and two and four ship groups were assembled. After morning briefings, crews headed to their aircraft, 600 horsepower radials roared to life with smoky protest, and the airfield stayed hectic all day. Flights were also flown Sunday morning. Pre-flight briefings outlined the expectations and post-flight debriefs put the polish on the practice.

The goal of the Texan Roundup is to make better pilots and to adhere to the mission of FAST, facilitating and promoting safe formation-flying for pilots operating aircraft through a review of criteria to be utilized by its members to standardize formation flight performance evaluation. In Gordon’s words, “Promote safety, keep sharp, fly right and fly tight, and create a constructive debrief environment.” Gordon clarified, “Don’t come to the clinic as a formation novice and expect to be checked-out over the weekend. Because of the short time frame, the pilot must have a certain level of formation experience to begin with. He may even go through the weekend and not be recommended for a check ride. But he’ll gain additional formation-flying experience and training, which will help him earn his card in the future.”

Consalvi added, “The Texan Roundup is a can’t-miss event for me every year. We provide the best formation training and proficiency flights a warbird pilot can receive at a fly-in. I know every single one of our pilots, their strengths, their weaknesses, and I think every one of them leaves the Round Up a better and more proficient formation pilot.”

In short, these aviators come together for a weekend in the true spirit of aviation, on their own volition, on their own dime, to advance their flying skills. And the opportunity to “Fly Right, Fly Tight!” over the beautiful hill country deep in the heart of Texas makes the Texan Round Up an annual spring tradition a Texan pilot does not want to miss!

Author Gary Daniels


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