Flying a pre-WWII biplane…

There’s something special about flying a Biplane.  It is a catalyst for all the aviation sensory perceptions…a smorgasbord for everything you smell, feel, see, and hear.

From Photographer Clint Goff, N34351 taking to the clouds

From Photographer Clint Goff, N34351 taking to the clouds

When the engine coughes to life, the small amount of oil that almost always exists in the bottom cylinders gets burned and exhausted into a belch of smoke and the slow turning blades waft this back to the pilot…normally this would be an annoyance, but in a biplane burnt oil has a sweet aroma that prepares the pilot for what is to come.

The second the engine starts, the loping rumble of the engine gives the ears a soft caress.  There’s simply nothing like the sound of an old radial engine.  In the Meyers, I set the very-effective parking brake and hand-prop the engine.  When flying an uninitiated biplane passenger, the belching start always breaks a smile for whoever is in the cockpit.  The smoke and sound always please.

1943 Meyers OTW

1943 Meyers OTW

The view from a biplane is like a well-framed picture.  Have you even noticed that the best landscape portraits always include some interesting subjects in the foreground?  In a biplane, the landscape is always framed in a confluence of symmetrical wings, wires, windshields.  The most dramatic, interesting, and beautiful landscape is always enhanced when viewed from the biplane cockpit.

Even the view forward from the back seat while on the ground, as restricted as it is, is still beautiful.  I normally sit in the back seat, so my view is arguably “worse” than the front-seater. Even so, there’s something about being in the fully leaned-back (biplanes tend to sit tall on tall front gear with the tail being quite low).  With virtually no forward visibility on the Meyers, taxiing can be a challenge for the beginner.  I usually perform a slight S-turn on the taxiway and lean my head out from side to side to catch a glimpse forward.  The Meyers does not have a steerable tailwheel (meaning, it has no locking mechanism and rotates freely 360 degrees), so taxiing is always done slowly and with care (there’s only aerodynamic steering (through use of the rudder) and asymmetrical braking to steer while on the ground).

Photographer Clint Goff capturing a wheel landing in the Meyers OTW

Photographer Clint Goff capturing a wheel landing in the Meyers OTW

On takeoff in a Mayers OTW, the engine roars to life and the wind blasts anything protruding above the windshield.  The goggles are a must-wear and the helmet helps tremendously.  The wind off the propeller is simply ever-present.  At first, it is a nuisance to the unprepared pilot, but soon the wind becomes an accepted part of the experience.

In cruise, the OTW is in no particular hurry to go anywhere.  If the throttle is opened fully, cruise speeds of 100mph are seen, but the wind jostles the head so much that is can be hard to keep the eyes focused.  Lessening the RPM to 1400 or less is the sweet spot for the OTW.  Here the earth passes by many MPH slower, but speed is not the goal.  At 75MPH the OTW is perfectly pleasant.

The best flights in the OTW are centered around the airport, and I mean VERY near the airport.  KJSO is a wonderful place that has not been spoiled by the trappings of congestion, noise complaints, or expensive FBO’s…it’s a rural, quiet airport with a steady heartbeat of GA business for many.  It’s a place where I can climb to about 200′ AGL on downwind and perform 20+ circuitous “traffic patterns” per hour. For most of those I’ll just touch the main tires and roll on, others I’ll lower the tail, and on all I’ll simply enjoy the slow, easy flying that embodies a biplane in all its glory.  Usually I find myself doing this type of flying in the last hour of the day.  Few are around then, and those that are usually sit in lawn chairs in front of their hangar, often imbibing in a beverage of choice, always allowing me to do my work encumbered.

After 20 landings/hour at KJSO

Today is the last of such flights in N34351 for me.  As with every nostalgic airplane, I’m not really the owner, I’m just the steward that gets to ensure the generation gets a chance to tantalize the senses .  Today I passed N34351 onto the next steward.  Doug is now on his journey from Texas to Washington State, and I think he’s going to have a magical flight.  To cross the entirety of the western US in a biplane will certainly provide ample time for the OTW to tantalize every sentry organ.  I wish I could have done that fight myself.  But, many biplanes were built and many still survive.  I’ll be the steward of another one day, and I hope that experience is a pleasant as the one I’ve had with N34351.  She’s a graceful lady that deserves to fly for years to come.

About Joe Casey

ATP, CFI, CFII, MEI, CFI-G Commercial Pilot - SE, ME, Rotorcraft, Glider US Army AH-64 Pilot and UH-60 Instructor Pilot and Instrument Flight Examiner
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