Although I’ve had plenty of experience riding in small aircraft from a pretty early age, I’d never been in a biplane until last week.
My dad started building flying machines when I was a kid. He started with flyable models made from balsa wood and paper skins. Then he graduated to this contraption. It’s a gyrocopter, basically a lawn chair with an engine with a pusher propeller sitting behind it and helicopter blades that rotated overhead (neither the prop nor the overhead blades were on this one).
Next came a real plane, a Cessna 150, which he bought with a couple of partners (there wasn’t a lot of money floating around to support this very expensive hobby). That led to several other planes, with several other partners. (Piper J-3 Cub, 1946 Navion, a tripacer, a Vagabond, Pete–a pretty famous racer, to name a few.) His true passion however was a plane he built in the garage behind me in this photo, and experimental aircraft called a Volkesplane (VP-1).
I never flew in that one either, it was a single place plane. He used to fly it over the house in the evenings low enough he could yell down and ask Mom if his dinner was ready yet. Illegal altitude you say? Um, yeah. He definitely would have been a barnstormer if he’d been alive in the early 1920s.
I did fly in the Piper J-3 Cub…with the door open. We lost Dad in 1989 and my aviation days ended. So up until last week, that was as close as I’d ever come to flying in an open cockpit biplane.
The day before the release of THE FLYING CIRCUS, I had the pleasure of speaking at the local chapter of Experimental Aircraft Association–and seeing some of my dad’s old buddies for the first time in many years.
I’d already mined some of these folks for details that I used in THE FLYING CIRCUS. And, after the meeting, one of those who so patiently answered my questions offered a ride in his Stearman biplane. It was awesome! Still, I cannot imagine what would ever drive someone to unbuckle that safety belt and climb out on the wings as Cora did in the book.