Wacko for Waco

It has been a rough year for avgeeks. Pretty much every major air show and aviation event has been canceled or posponed until 2021. Aside from a few isolated fly-overs, aviation enthusiasts have had to make due with whatever airplanes happened to stop by the local airport.

In recent weeks, however, a few small events have popped up. I shrugged most of them off – we’re in a pandemic, after all. Who is going to show up? The chance of any event being worth attending seemed pretty low. Then last month I found out about a Waco fly-in being held a couple hours away at Waco Field. The day was gorgeous – blue skies, perfect temps. I had nothing better to do so I decided to take a chance and make the trip.

During the drive I mentally prepared myself to be disappointed. However, when I arrived at the destination and saw row after row of bi-planes and other vintage airplanes I nearly burst into tears for sheer joy. Finally! After more than a year I was once again surrounded by airplanes and avgeeks and it felt wonderful!

I started the afternoon by working my way along the rows of planes. Since this was a Waco fly-in, I was not surprised to see several of them in attendance. However, there were plenty of other types of planes on hand as well. One that caught my eye was the Grasshopper. It is actually a Piper J-3 Cub which was adapted for service in WWII. Another plane that grabbed my attention was a Great Lakes bi-plane. I just love the stance, the big round tail and splashy colors.

Next I visited the small museum located on the field. Inside were a number of exhibits dedicated to the history of Waco airplanes. Originally the Weaver Aircraft Company, the name changed to Waco around 1929. They developed a number of different airplanes including both open and closed cockpit bi-planes. During WWII they manufactured gliders which were used by the US Army Air Force as well as the RAF. The company folded after the war when the demand for civil aircraft didn’t increase as hoped.

I headed back outside in time to watch the RC air show. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from RC planes. Turns out it was pretty darn cool. They started with an aerobatic helicopter which did some pretty fancy flying that made me a little dizzy. This was followed by an aerobatic plane which performed the same loops and spins that one would expect from the full-sized version. Last was an RC plane built almost entirely for speed. It had a jet engine and they weren’t kidding when they said it was fast!

Once the RC show was over, the families moved off to the other side of the field for the candy drop. This was accomplished with another RC helicopter. I had never seen a candy drop before. It sure did look like fun! I opted not to get too close – in part to maintain social distance, but mostly because the Wacos and several other planes were taking off in preparation for the parade of planes.

The parade consisted of a series of fly-bys. An announcer provided details about each type of Waco as it made a low pass up the grass strip. Once the parade was over, the two bi-planes that had been giving rides all afternoon took back to the air. I’ve always been a bit hesitant about flying in an open cockpit, but I have to admit it looked like a lot of fun.

I headed home at the end of the day exhausted and sunburned but very happy. It was wonderful to be around airplanes again! Plus I found the perfect souvenir to remind me of all the fun. Perhaps best of all, I was able to support a small aviation museum and hopefully help keep it up and running for years to come.

Old Car, Older Airplane

35792000_UnknownEveryone knows how much I love airplanes. However, I’ve always liked classic cars too. A couple years ago I inherited a 1954 MG TF 1500 from my father. It’s not the kind of classic car I imagined I might have, but the more I’ve gotten to know it, the more I’ve come to love it. When I found out there was going to be a Cruise-In/Fly-In nearby I was super excited. Spend the day at an airport with airplanes AND classic cars? Oh heck yeah!

In a regular car on the highway it would take around 40 minutes to get to the Cruise-In/Fly-In location. However, the MG doesn’t go very fast. And it doesn’t go on major highways. It also doesn’t go if it is too cold. Or too hot. Or too wet. Or… You get the idea. Thankfully the weather was perfect for enjoying the back roads. Sure the drive took twice as long but it was totally worth it!

IMG_5895The first thing I noticed when we arrived at the airport was all the cars – they had a great turn-out for the cruise-in!  There were plenty of American classics, of course, but there were some imports as well, including another old MG. There were also a lot of airplanes. The fly-in covered just about every aspect of aviation you can think of. There were drones and RC planes. There were flight simulators. The NASA “Journey to Tomorrow” traveling exhibit was there along with a shuttle astronaut who was signing autographs. Several university aviation programs had booths set up. And of course they had rides – a helicopter, a bi-plane and a C-47 were all coming and going with passengers on board. However, I was most excited about the Ford Tri Motor.

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I’ve been wanting to fly on a Tri Motor ever since I first saw one parked at my airport several years ago. There have been Tri Motor rides offered at other nearby airports and it’s always on my list of things to do at Osh, but somehow I’ve never been able to make it happen. I was not about to miss out again. I headed straight for the registration table and got signed up for the very next flight.

Production of the Ford Tri Motor airplane began in 1925. This particular plane, the “City of Wichita/City of Port Clinton,” was built in 1929. That’s right – the Tri Motor is 25 years OLDER than my 64-year-old MG! I always breathe a sigh of relief when the MG successfully completes a road trip without breaking down. And yet here I was, cheerfully boarding a much older airplane. Was I nervous? No, not at all.  Was I excited?  Absolutely!

 

As I climbed up into the plane I was struck by how different the interior is compared to commercial aircraft today. For one thing, it has wood paneling. It also has cushy seats similar to what you might find in an old movie theater. No issues with legroom here! I especially loved the big square windows which provided an exceptional view of the world outside. The taxi out and take-off were much smoother than I expected and as we lifted off the ground I realized that it has been over two years since I was last flew. Oh my goodness it was WONDERFUL to be back in the air!

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Me and my shadow…

We circled around the airport a few times and I was able to pick out many landmarks below. I was seated towards the tail so unfortunately I wasn’t able to see the cockpit very well. I did notice, however, that some of the gauges were out on the wing so the pilot had to look out the window to view them. This reminded me of the MG’s “side view” mirror, which is positioned up on the front fender. It seems odd, but it works! I spent most of the flight soaking up the thrill of being in the sky, and trying to imagine what it must have been like for the plane’s first passengers all those years ago.

 

Time flies (literally) when you are having fun and before I knew it we were back on the ground. Although the flight was over, the afternoon was just getting started – there was still so much to see and do!  I spent the rest of the day checking out the various planes, enjoying the classic cars and chatting with people about the MG.

If you’ve ever wanted to go for a flight but have balked at the cost of riding on a B-17 or B-29, you really should check out the Tri Motor. At just $75 it is quite affordable and trust me, it is worth every penny! But watch out – once you do it, you’ll want more. After swearing I’d never fly in an open cockpit, I suddenly find myself keen to try a bi-plane ride. Stay tuned!

Authors Note: Check out the latest episode of Podcasting on a Plane!  Host Brandon and I talk about my visit to the ATC tower at Oshkosh, my very first experience with an ATC simulator program and my adventures on the deice pad. We had a lot of fun so give it a listen!

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