Later in the flight, we proceeded to KEQA, the Captain Jack Thomas/El Dorado, Kansas, municipal airport, for pattern work. The aircraft has landing pattern speeds and characteristics similar to those of an entry-level light business jet, but it’s capable of the much steeper approaches needed to keep it above the small arms envelope. We flew most approaches at 125 to 130 KIAS, slowing to 106 to 108 KIAS on final. AT-6C doesn’t have antiskid brakes, a feature we could have used to good advantage when attempting to control the aircraft during a crosswind landing. Poor pilot technique on our part required a tire change before we could depart El Dorado.
Production AT-6Cs will be able to carry 3,350 lb of external stores on seven stations, including MIL-SPEC-1760 “smart weapons” such as Paveway II laser-guided 250-lb and 500-lb bombs, laser-guided 2.75-in rockets and GPS-guided munitions, plus Hellfire missiles. Conventional external stores include twin 50-caliber RN Herstal HMP-400LC guns each carrying 400 rounds of ammunition, Mk 81 250-lb and Mk 82 500-lb bombs and LAU-68/131 rocket pods. Four of the wing stations are plumbed for external fuel tanks.
AT-6C also will be able to operate autonomously from austere runways at forward operating bases. Based on extensive experience with Texan II trainer operations, turnaround times should be less than 15 minutes, not including rearmament or changing external stores. But AT-6C retains the relatively narrow, high-pressure tires of the T-6 Texan II trainer, along with its comparatively narrow main wheel track width, so unpaved runways may have to be prepped to remove small stones and debris, in our opinion.
Beech officials, though, claim that the AT-6C’s being a close derivative of the T-6C Texan II trainer is one of its greatest strengths. There now are more than 700 Texan II trainers in service around the world, and they’ve collectively logged more than 1.7 million flight hours. Beech has worldwide product support for its civil and military aircraft, including special missions models such as the ISR variant of the King Air 350; thus the AT-6C will have unmatched maintainability, officials say.