One of the best parts of attending a fly-in like Sun ‘n Fun is the opportunity to see rare and unusual vintage aircraft. This year a 1930s-era Consolidated YPT-6A Fleet made the show for the first time.
The airplane, painted brown and COME FIND ME yellow, rocked gently in the wind that blew across the vintage parking area while owners Mark White and Mary Wood of Vero Beach, Florida, made sure the tie-downs were holding fast. Like a couple of proud parents, they were more than willing to talk to people about their airplane.
“That’s our baby,” Wood said with a smile, gesturing to the biplane.“It’s 80 years old and it’s a dream to fly,” Wood chimed in.”We’ve never had anyone fly it who didn’t like it.”
It took the couple seven years to restore the biplane, finishing up the project last year.
You don’t see many YPT-6A, said White, because only a handful were built. Jane’s Encyclopedia of Aircraft notes that the Fleet PT-6 and its derivatives, such as the YPT and the Navy version N2Y, are basically militarized versions of the Fleet Model 2. It draws its lineage from the Fleet 1, which was originally known as the Consolidated Model 14 Husky Junior. Eventually, Consolidated abandon production of the aircraft and the manufacturing rights were purchased by Reuben Fleet, the president of Consolidated Aircraft and an aircraft designer. He formed Fleet Aircraft and production moved forward.
“Consolidated Aircraft built a total of 15 of these for the Air Corps and another six for the Navy,” he said, noting, “There are four of these remaining. There is one Navy version left and that is at Pensacola Naval Air Museum. This one was one of five based at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. As far as I know, this is the only one that is airworthy.”
The airplane came into White’s possession when he decided he wanted a vintage open cockpit biplane to call his own. His first thought was a Stearman, but he didn’t have room for one. He found the biplane advertised for sale, listed as a “project airplane,” which meant it was in pieces. The pair rented a truck, drove to Ohio and brought it home.
White and Wood say that they were extremely lucky because, unlike so many other project airplanes, all the parts were there. “And unlike so many other airplanes of that era, it hadn’t been wrecked,” said White.
During the parts inventory, they were surprised to find three-digit numbers stamped on everything. At first, the numbers didn’t make any sense.
“The three-digit numbers didn’t match up with the serial number,” White said. “We thought that perhaps we had the papers from one airplane and the airframe of another, which occasionally happens with these old things. Then we looked up the three-digit number and found out that it was the Air Corps serial number.”
The airplane has tandem seating. Back in the day the instructor sat in the rear seat and the student in the front. Today it is soloed from the back seat behind a World War I-style flat windscreen. “The windscreen is kind of unique,” said White. “I found a guy in Texas who had it and he sold it to me.”
The airplane is not intended to be a historically accurate restoration, White noted. “It’s meant to be fun,” he said. “The rear panel is updated with modern instruments, so it has radios and a transponder, which makes it a little more practical to fly. The front panel is the original panel. It has a tailwheel where originally it had a skid plate. It also has modern wheels and brakes.”
A 160-hp Kinner engine is under the cowl. Cruise rpm is 1,650. “That gives me a 105 mph cruise,” White said, noting, “It stalls at 50 mph.”
One of the more intriguing things about the aircraft is the trim, “but there is no trim wheel or handle,” he said. “The pilot pulls on the actual cable. There is no trim position indicator in the airplane, so the pilot has to look over his or her shoulder to see the position of the elevator and see if that coincides with how the airplane is flying and what is wanted.”
The airplane is painted in authentic colors and markings. When restoring a vintage aircraft, finding the right color combination can be a challenge because most of the photographs from the early days of aviation are black and white.
“That’s where Wright-Patterson Air Force Base really helped us out, because we actually found a photo of it at the original base,” White said. “We also learned that it was stationed at Brooks Field in San Antonio. We contacted their museum and they had a book that actually had a picture of our airplane in it.”
Although he’s been flying for a long time, this was the first biplane White has owned.
“It handles really well in the air, not like some airplanes of the vintage era that can be a handful,” he said. “It flies really honestly and it also handles well on the ground. Because it is a biplane it has a lot of drag in it, especially when you slip it. And since it is a tailwheel, when you start to flare, you can’t see anything ahead of you and that can be intimidating at first.”
“It’s like a rock star,” said Wood. “It attracts a crowd wherever it lands,” added White.