Dave Hirschman and Waco at Bullfrog Airport in Utah
The first time I ever saw a Waco Classic biplane, the mere sight of round-engine aircraft conjured up a recurring fantasy involving summertime cross-country flights and sleeping under the wings at night.
The recently concluded “Long Way to Long Beach” trip in a Waco YMF-5D far surpassed anything my limited imagination could have dreamed up. The sights, sounds, and sensations of a low-level, coast-to-coast biplane trip were thrilling to the core–and the people AOPA staff photographer Chris Rose and I met along the way were gracious, friendly, and incredibly welcoming to a pair of warmly dressed strangers.
And it wasn’t our magnetic personalities that won them over. Simply showing up in a rumbling, nostalgic airplane like the Waco brings out the best in fellow aviators. They offered tips for navigating mountainous terrain, ATC, as well as meals, transportation, and accommodations.
Our challenges were limited to predictable things such as numbing cold over the Appalachians, crosswinds and thunderstorms in the Plains, high density altitudes in the Southwest, and turbulence over the desert. But even at those uncomfortable moments, Rose and I were glad to be where we were. We’re incredibly fortunate to have had such an opportunity, and the deck always seemed stacked in our favor. The airplane ran perfectly from a mechanical standpoint during the entire 20-plus flying hours it took to cover 2,300 nautical miles; the weather was clear almost the entire trip and provided rare tailwinds going west on day one; and the technology (Garmin 430 and 696 with satellite weather, SPOT tracker, and IFR instrumentation.) provided tremendous situational awareness and peace of mind.
Some low-tech gear also proved essential, namely wool socks, a neck gaiter, and foam earplugs.
For a flatland flier like me, the mountains provided the jaw-dropping highlights–and the splendor of following the Colorado River and the canyon contours it’s carved from Moab, Utah, to Page, Ariz., at daylight was beyond description. The fall colors and foggy river valleys of West Virginia, the seemingly endless Plains, and the imposing mountains and canyons of the Four Corners also left their mark before we reached our destination on the blue Pacific.
The Recreational Aviation Foundation, especially its president, John McKenna, was a valuable ally. McKenna provided contacts, places to stay, steaks, beer, and elk sausages, and flew his Cessna 185 with the door off as a photo platform on two spectacular flights above the incomparable canyons of southern Utah.
This inspiring, exhausting, and completely unforgettable flying adventure is drawing to a close for Rose and me. But it’s just beginning for the AOPA “A Night for Flight” auction winner who takes home a brand new Waco Classic.
It’s just the start of what’s sure to be an incredible journey.
Clermont County Airport, Batavia, Ohio, I69
Jefferson City Airport, Jefferson City, Missouri, KJEF
Col. James Jabara Airport, Wichita, Kansas, KAAO
Dalhart Airport, Dalhart, Texas, KDHT
Mid-Valley Airpark, Las Lunas, New Mexico, E98
Cortez Airport, Cortez, Colorado, KCEZ
Canyonlands Field Airport, Moab, Utah, KCNY
Bullfrog Basin Airport, Glen Canyon, Utah, U07
Kingman Airport, Kingman, Arizona, KIMG
Santa Paula Airport, Santa Paula, California, KSZP
Average speed: 105 knots
Flight time: 22 hours, 30 minutes
Fuel consumption: 320 gallons (14.8 gph)
Oil consumption: three gallons