Alyssa Miller

Wonderful Waco

November 13, 2010 by Alyssa Miller, AOPA Online Managing Editor

As the final hours of the AOPA Foundation’s A Night for Flight auction wind down, the one who ends up with the highest bid on the custom-made Waco YMF-5D biplane will be one lucky pilot.
Waco biplane
I had the opportunity to fly the 300-horsepower Waco that’s on display at AOPA Aviation Summit with AOPA Pilot Senior Editor Dave Hirschman before he ferried it to California. We flew Serial No. 46, but it looked brand new. LED lights and a Garmin moving map display add a modern touch to the classic aircraft. But the details of the leather-lined open cockpit, wooden tipped control stick, and leather pouch for charts and other pilot supplies made me feel as if I were flying the aircraft right after it came off the line years ago.

The Waco is the first tailwheel that I’ve taxied in which I needed to do S-turns along the taxiway because I couldn’t see in front of me. I was probably a little overzealous in my rudder control on those turns, as I felt more like I was doing aerobic exercises, going from full left rudder deflection to full right rudder deflection. (I think Dave was just so happy to be giving time in the Waco to a low-time pilot that he didn’t mind the huge turns I was making…as he didn’t say a word.)

Takeoff was amazing. I watched as Dave barreled down the centerline, or what I presume was the centerline since we had the same amount of runway and grass on either side of the aircraft. As he lifted the tail, I could see over the nose and feel the air rushing before we lifted off. About 300 feet agl, Dave handed the controls back to me and we flew to a nearby practice area where I performed steep turns, stalls, a lazy 8, and a loop (as Dave walked me through it). And with that, sadly, it was time to return to the airport.

As we flew back, I couldn’t help but pretend I was a barnstorming pilot flying over the Mid-Atlantic fields near our home base in Frederick, Md. My years of dreaming of flying in an open-cockpit biplane had finally come true, and it was everything—perhaps more—that I had dreamed it would be. In fact, it wasn’t until Dave had landed and we turned off on the taxiway that I remembered I had my camera with me the entire time to document the flight. Pictures from the ground will have to suffice, but I have a feeling I won’t soon forget that flight. Judging by how long I smiled after that flight, it ranks close to my first solo.

I hope whoever wins the custom-made Waco in the A Night for Flight Auction enjoys flying the classic as much as I did! For a taste of what it’s like, watch this video created by the Recreational Aviation Foundation.

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