I’ve dreamed of flying in a biplane since I was sixteen years old, after reading Richard Bach’s, Illusions. His tales of barnstorming across the farm fields of the midwest wrapped my imagination around a world that was completely foreign to me. It was one I longed to experience for myself. When I’ve dreamt of flying, it’s always been in a biplane. I never had the opportunity until I started going to air shows recently, and realized that you could still pay to take a ride in one of these gorgeous planes.
In my current grounded state, I decided to take the opportunity to fly in one at the Military Aviation Museum in Virginia Beach while at the Warbirds over the Beach air show. I can’t pilot myself at the moment, this seemed like a great way to spend some time and see what flying in a biplane would feel like.
I scheduled myself for the first flight of the day. I’ve always loved a morning flight. She’s as beautiful as I imagined she would be, a WACO, red with black trim, two beautiful staggered wings, absolutely stunning sitting there in the morning light. I hear her call my name as I approach, whispering to me to climb in, buckle up and let her show me around the skies.
I introduce myself to the pilot and the ground crew, take some pictures to remember this day outside of just a blur of memories, that might feel more like a dream than reality once my feet get back on solid ground.
I’ve never worn a shoulder harness before, so the ground crew help me get buckled up and strapped down. “Make sure it’s a pulled tight enough that it’s a little uncomfortable.” I pull down hard on the straps and feel to see if there is any looseness in them.
I’m used to wearing a headset for flying, but this looks ‘old school’ as it’s the full cap with the headset mounted inside with goggles attached. Awesome! That’s going to look amazing on me, I hear myself say with sarcasm in my head. I laugh as I grab the headset and put it on. “You’ve got it backwards,” one of the crew says to me. We both laugh and I turn it around, slip the strap under my chin and velcro it to the other side. “You don’t have to wear the goggles,” he tells me. So, I throw them behind my head and hope they won’t beat me to death in the air. I’m not sure what to expect wind wise in an open cockpit since I’ve never been in one before today. My pilot, Butch does a radio check with me and I confirm, “Roger, I can hear you.” They tell me to cover the mike with my hand when I want to talk to cut down on the noise once the plane starts.
When the crew feels comfortable that I’m not going to fall out, they move away and the plane starts with a great burst of smoke that surrounds the plane where you can hardly see anything else. The prop turning, quickly dissipates the smoke as she growls and purrs, waking up like a lioness letting her presence be known to everyone around that she owns this territory right now. What a wonderful sound she makes, it’s like she can’t wait to get moving too.
I look to my right, and we are sitting on the ramp next to a P51 Mustang, Double Trouble and I grin and take a picture. “How often do you get to sit in a plane on the ramp next to a P51?” I can’t stop smiling, because this just seems unbelievable to me.
Butch comes on the radio to let me know that since this is her first flight today, he’s letting her warmup for a few minutes before we take off. I take a few more pictures and continue to admire the P51 that’s looking eye to eye with me. I can hear it saying, you should’ve picked me. Awe, but that’s an expensive flight indeed. Maybe one day…
I’m just a passenger today, along for the ride. I’m in the front seat, and Butch is in the back because most biplanes are flown from the rear seat. He pulls us off the ramp and towards the grass runway in front of us. This is the first grass field I’ve experienced, my firsts are adding up today. It’s a little bumpy, kind of like riding in my truck on a dirt road, not too bad and a lot of fun. I’m smiling from ear to ear because my butt is strapped into a biplane and I’m going flying!
As Butch announces that we are back taxiing down the runway, we hear another plane announce they are on a left downwind for landing. Butch radios them to let them know that we will be out of their way in sixty seconds.
He makes a sharp turn and wheels us around at an angle to do a quick run-up. I’m watching the dials as he tests the mags and controls. He radios our departure and we start our takeoff roll down the runway.
What a view, and we aren’t even in the air yet! The line up of planes on the ramp is enough to take your breath away. I’m in my dream plane and we’re passing a Stearman Biplane, a P51 Mustang, a Corsair, the Dauntless, an Avenger and several SNJ’s. They become a blur as we lift off and begin to climb. We depart left out of the pattern and as we turn, I can see the hangers and the grass runway below. We head for the coast.
It’s a beautiful morning, the air is crisp, broken clouds up high, winds are gusting over 10kts, we’re cruising at 80kts with a head wind at an altitude of 1200 feet. It’s a great height for sight seeing and picture taking.
I feel so small in the cockpit. Even on a cushion, I can barely see out of the sides, but I sit tall and lean over holding tightly to my camera so as not have it stripped from my hands by the wind. I’m still able to get some great pictures. Unless I lean out around the wind shield, I don’t feel much air moving inside, but lean just a bit outside and the wind pushes against you fiercely.
The Virginia coastline is beautiful from the air . There are rows after rows of farm fields laid out neatly, filled with wheat and hay bristling below in wonderful shades of green and tan that meld into the blues of the inlet waterways stretched out below me as far as I can see. We turn out over the island towards the ocean and make our way out over open water and travel down the coast towards the North Carolina Outer Banks for a bit before turning back to Virginia Beach.
I breath it all in deeply and let my eyes soak in the beauty from the view way up here. I’m not nervous at all; I feel at home, and I can’t imagine another way I’d rather travel. I think to myself, how lucky I am to experience this wonderful adventure. Flying is incredible and it fills me with a pleasure that’s indescribable.
Butch turns us back over the beach to head inland towards 42VA airport. He announces our position to let the other pilots know our intentions. We enter the traffic pattern with a left downwind approach for runway 29 for a full stop landing.
It was amazing coming in for landing with the parade of mighty warbirds greeting us like soldiers standing tall on the ramp. I’ve never landed on a grass strip runway and I was thinking it would be a bit bumpy as we turned final. Butch drops it down almost immediately and so smooth that if it weren’t for a few dips in the runway, I wouldn’t have know we were on the ground. We bounce and bob, rolling to the end of the runway. Again, he whips it around on a dime and announces that we are back taxiing to bring her to the ramp.
As the plane comes to a stop and he cuts the engine, he asks me what I thought about the flight. “It was amazing! Better than coffee in the morning!” I say, and he laughs and smiles back at me.
My head’s still in the clouds as I take my camera and move away from the plane. I take a few more pictures of her as she sits there looking gorgeous. I hear her whisper to me again, “I could feel how much you loved it and how calm you were, you were born to fly.” I smile to myself and turn to walk away.
Was it all that I thought it’d be? YES! The only thing that might have been better is if I’d been doing aerobatics in her. Awe, but maybe one day I’ll get to try that too.