September 14, 2008

Biplane Flight

On Saturday I drove up to Van Sant Airport in Bucks county PA, where I met Jim, Rusty and Bob. While there, I took a flight in a Stearman biplane.

Not just a normal flight, mind you. When given the options over the phone, I was told that the Barnstormer package was basically a nice scenic flight in this vintage aircraft, whereas the Aerobatic plan was a flight with rolls, spins and stuff you'd see in an air show. Given that it was only a 25 dollar difference, plus the fact that I'm a huge fan of roller coasters, I went with the Aerobatic.

I definitely made the right choice.

For one thing, being in an airplane you're not thrown around as much as in a roller coaster. Coasters are designed for hard turns, basically battering the passengers around inside the car. Airplanes, especially propeller aircraft with their slower air speeds, aren't designed for that kind of battering.

Wearing a parachute was a nice added bonus.

The ride was great. For one thing, you're in an open cockpit, so other than a very small windshield directly in front of you, you're in the open air. And it doesn't hurt your eyes or anything, matter of fact for the first few minutes I forgot to put my goggles on. As an added bonus I was sitting in the front seat; I suppose this is because the Stearman was designed as a military trainer.

We started out with a couple of loops. The pilot would explain each maneuver, then warn me just before execution. After each one he'd ask how I was doing, I guess to see if I was getting sick or something (I wasn't - matter of fact, I was loving it more and more!) We progressed to an Immelmann, then a variety of Cuban Eights (which I'd never heard of before). We finished with a Hammerhead (vertical climb to stall, then knife over until nose points toward ground), into a corkscrew spin. Then we buzzed the field before circling back around for landing. (Here's a link for most of these maneuvers).

It was fantastic. On a lot of these turns I found myself looking out over the wing, to watch the horizon pivot around the aircraft. Or I'd look at the ground (when we were pointed at it), watching it rush up towards us. Even upside-down, this was a great experience.

I've seen many air shows in my day and marveled at the aerobatics. I've even got to watch a couple of fighter planes knife out of the clouds to refuel in the KC-135 I got lucky enough to get a ride in. But now I can finally say that I've been in an aircraft and experienced this first hand.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the main reason they designed these tandem seat aircraft to have the pilot in the back is so that the passenger seat is closer to the center of gravity. That way the balance of the aircraft is not much effected by having a passenger or not.

It also gives the pilot a great sense of which way the airplane is pointed, but very little visibility out the front.

What I don't understand is why the Piper J3 Cub, which must be soloed from the rear, has many of the controls and instruments in the front where you can't reach them!

10:25 AM  
Blogger Rothar said...

Um, yeah, well sucks to be you, I suppose. :-)

10:39 AM  

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