At the time, I was qualified in the P-51 and the AT-6, so those are two taildraggers that are very similar to Skyraiders. In fact the Skyraider flies almost exactly like a T-6, except it’s just bigger. I still remember my very first sortie because it’s a single-seat plane. You don’t get to fly with an instructor; you just take it off on your own. And here’s this big beast of a warbird, bigger than any warbird I’ve flown, and you just kind of stomp on the right rudder and keep it almost to the ground and keep bringing the power in because power will pull you left. The side of prop headed down has more thrust, and that’s to the right side, so it pulls you left. Until you get airflow over your rudder, you don’t have any control for that, so you’re just managing as you’re rolling down the runway. And it’s a giant airframe.
Are you wondering at any time during this takeoff if this is a good idea?
[laughter] No, but you are definitely looking at the left side of the runway, thinking, “I don’t want to be there.” So the whole focus is I’m going to NOT get off the centerline. At the same time, you have to bring the power up in order to get it to take off, so it’s just managing those two things. I’d flown an A-10, so I’d flown the soul of the Skyraider long before I’d flown the actual Skyraider.
Frankly, it was just a feeling of reverence. The Skyraider is the grandfather of the A-10, and the P-47 is the grandfather of the A-10, and I’ve flown that as well. There’s a bloodline that runs from the P-47 through the A-1 straight to the A-10. They’re all very similar in feel. It’s pretty interesting.
Is the P-47 in your museum?
No, it’s in the Flying Heritage Collection, which is [Microsoft co-founder] Paul Allen’s museum. In fact, I just flew it yesterday. It’s the P-47 Thunderbolt, remember, and the A-10 is the Thunderbolt II. So I’m pretty sure I’m the only P-47, A-1, A-10 pilot. There’s only one other P-47 – A-10 pilot, a buddy of mine, Charlie Hainline. Charlie flies the P-47 pretty regularly with the Lone Star Flight Museum, down in Galveston, Texas, and he does the Heritage Flight with the P-47 all the time.
What’s it like to be the son of an Apollo astronaut? I bet a lot of people have asked you that question.
[laughter] Well, It’s a privilege and a burden at the same time. It’s an interesting place to be, especially when you go into the Air Force. I wasn’t trying to repeat or refill his shoes, but at the same time in the Air Force, everybody knew who my dad was. And so living up to the standards can put some pressure, but I wasn’t so much into what my dad did, which was in the test pilot world, I was more of a combat-oriented aviator. So I just took a different route, but similar enough that there was always a bit of pressure on me.
How old were you when your dad flew the Apollo 8 mission?
I was six years old when he flew. When you’re six years old and you’re living in El Lago, Texas, the limited perspective of a six-year-old leads you to think that everybody’s dad is an astronaut. So when he flew to the moon, we just thought, “That’s what dad does.” [laughter] Then we moved to D.C., and I was kinda surprised that people were coming up to me all the time, saying “You’re dad’s the astronaut?” It took me moving away from Texas to realize “Wow, that was pretty cool.”