Solos Seven Taildraggers In A Day Interrupted By Rain
Several months ago, during a winter conversation, it was
mentioned that Dillon Barron could solo many different planes on
his 16th birthday. From that seed grew his idea to do it all
in taildraggers. Barron Aviation, based at Hannibal Regional
Airport (KHAE) in Hannibal, MO, and one of Dillon's father Michael
Barron’s companies specializing in vintage planes and flight
training, agreed to sponsor Dillon with his effort. Not only would
his first solo flights be in taildraggers, but most would be with
vintage radial engines and two of the planes would be twin
During the months leading up to this day Dillon Barron, his
father Michael, and the Barron Aviation crew worked many full days
and late nights repairing several planes damaged during a storm
earlier this spring. Also on the work list was the newly acquired
North American AT-6A purchased as salvage from a landing accident.
The last two aircraft were returned to service just two weeks prior
to the big day. This didn’t leave much extra time for
training, so much of Dillon’s initial instruction took place
during challenging wind conditions. The day after final assembly
and inspection of the AT-6A was completed, Dillon’s father
took it up for a 30 minute test flight then immediately began with
instruction. To Dillon’s surprise, he found the plane a
pleasure to fly.
Everyone woke to rain and advancing storms on Saturday morning,
June 25th. Closer inspection of the weather radar revealed some
breaks in the advancing front and the decision to preflight all the
planes was made. Both Dillon and his father seemed quite confident
they could work around the weather and still complete the flights.
A little after 0900 local time all of the planes were serviced,
inspected, and flight ready. It was time to begin this great
The Cessna 170-B was chosen by Dillon for his first solo flight.
A logical choice for him as his first plane ride was in a 170. Now,
16 years later and no car seat, he is going to fly one by himself.
Dillon is also in the process of repairing and restoring a Cessna
170-B for his first plane.
After several pictures Dillon and his father climbed in, buckled
up and fired up the polished relic. A traditional warm up flight
was made then the father climbed out and sent the son on for his
first solo flight. His takeoff was textbook perfect, but no sooner
than Dillon was in the air, the rain began and the wind changed
directions. This seemed to be no surprise to the young aviator. We
heard him make a radio call announcing the change in his traffic
pattern and he circled around to make a beautiful landing in the
opposite direction. Greeted with a handshake and hug from dad, he
had completed his first solo flight.
For most student pilots this would be the climatic point,
however, there were still 6 more beautiful vintage planes waiting
for their turn with the young Barron. The next lovely lady would be
a 1952 Cessna LC-126-C, polished and painted in the bright Arctic
Rescue colors. The military purchased some 62 LC-126 models in the
early 1950’s and none saw adventure like the 11 assigned to
Alaska. Equipped with wheels, floats and skis, they were used year
round all over the region, including the Aleutian Islands.
The wind and rain were picking up when the plane taxied out but
this would be nothing new for this seasoned bird. It turns out
neither would be of any consequence for Dillon either. He made what
would be the best landing of the day. The only way we could tell
when the plane touched down was the spray behind the main wheels
from the water on the runway. The bright colors set against dark
skies and the unique sound of a radial engine.
With the cross winds picking up Dillon’s grandfather John,
was getting nervous. His plane was next, a beautifully customized
bright red 1950 Cessna 195-B. No-one except his son, Michael, has
been allowed to fly this plane for the last ten years, and now it
was going to be flown by a student pilot in crosswinds and rain. It
didn’t help when wind gusts and a subsequent balked landing
forced Dillon to go around for another approach and landing. While
the go around prompted a confident chuckle with an “atta
boy” from his father, no-one has been able to confirm
John’s eyes were open. This flight tied the recorded world
record for “the most conventional geared aircraft soloed in
Things were starting to look really ominous to the north. A peek
at the weather radar showed a large front of storms moving into the
area. Some of these storms topped 50,000 feet with large hail
reported. There would only be time for one more flight before the
storms hit the Hannibal Airport. Confident he would resume flying
after the storms passed; Dillon elected to fly the Cessna 195
modified with a 915 cubic inch Jacobs engine. This plane, nicknamed
“Bart” is used by the Rapid Descent drop zone for
skydiving. Now the on-looking skydivers were nervous. This was
their ride as soon as Dillon was done with it. The performance of
this stripped down, large engine machine, with only one kid in it,
was impressive. There was also a great big smile on Dillon’s
face when he returned the skydivers their chariot; he had set a new
Cake and conversation were enjoyed inside the hanger while the
planes got thoroughly washed by the passing storms. Many of
Dillon’s friends and family were there for the day’s
festivities, or possibly for the six different birthday cakes
prepared by his grandmother, Marilyn.
After two hours of Midwestern monsoons the rain began to subside
and thoughts again turned to the remaining three gleaming planes;
two twin engine classics and a World War II advanced fighter
trainer. These were saved for last both as the most challenging and
favorites of a young vintage airplane enthusiast.
As Michael climbed out of the family’s beautifully
restored 1944 Beechcraft C-45H and watched it taxi away, he
realized this would be the first time he had ever seen it fly from
the outside. The polished plane with its sleek lines along with the
sound of two throaty radial engines brought goose bumps to his arms
and legs. “That will never grow old” he said as he
turned and walked back toward the spectator group. Knowing this
particular plane offered the most significant challenges for his
son, and the winds were now 15 gusting to 20 miles per hour, he
watched intently as it came in for another sweet landing. As his
instructor, even his father was impressed with his son’s
handling of this plane. This also showed on the young man’s
face as he exited the plane down the airstairs. A new level of
inner confidence had been achieved.
Along with this boosted confidence came a serious warning from
dad; “do not give these next two planes any less attention or
respect, they will bite you if you let them.” With the
respected advice of his father he diligently worked his way around
and into his next twin engine Beechcraft, a G-18S used at Hannibal
for skydiving. An avid skydiver as well, Dillon has more takeoffs
in this plane than landings. None the less, both were stellar.
He is down to one final plane, his favorite, the one he had
worked so hard on the last four months, the North American AT-6A.
The T-6 series, also known as the SNJ series by the Navy, was used
throughout World War II as the advanced trainer for fighter pilots.
As the last plane they would fly before being sent out in their
assigned single seat fighter, the design and flight characteristics
were made similar to the fighter planes of the day. This particular
plane was manufactured in 1942 and used by the military as well as
several subsequent civilian owners. One of these owners was William
P. Lear, of the “Learjet” family, which “Lear
Field” (Hannibal Regional Airport) is named after. Prior to
conducting this plane’s test flight, the last time
Dillon’s father had flown in one was in his father’s
T-6 at the age of three. He remembered not being able to see much
from the back seat. Now that he is much taller, he still
can’t see. The only way to see forward for landing is to have
the person in front lean to the side.
With only 30 minutes less T-6 time than his instructor, young
Dillon looked very at home as he taxied away with his dad standing
along the taxiway. Again this would be Michael’s first time
to see this plane in action. What a thrill to hear the engine go
past at full throttle and see Dillon with the canopy slid open.
Lulled into a relaxed state by Dillon’s precision throughout
the day, not many people noticed the gear was not down as he turned
a rather brisk final approach. This however did not escape the eye
of his grandmother, also a private pilot. While everyone else
enjoyed the graceful fly by, her heart rate was just beginning to
return to normal. After one last beautiful landing Dillon Lee
Barron was greeted and applauded by a very proud group of friends
At the end of this eventful day, Dillon had more than doubled
the recorded world record, got to fly some of his dream planes by
himself, and had six different kinds of cake.