As soon as the second cartridge misfired to turn on the propeller engine of the 1942 bi-plane, I knew this was going to be either a failed attempt to fly over Sonoma County, or an exciting and probably bumpy ride. Also, somewhere in the back of my mind, I thought this could be ‘the’ unfortunate last ride, if the 70 year old machinery decided to go down for a wine dive.
The sign read “Fly a WWII –Biplane over the California vineyards”. Altitude, pirouettes and wine sounded just fine, but it was the pilot and his western relaxed demeanor behind a big grayed moustache that made everything just seemed much more normal.
The beautiful, candy red 1942 Boeing Starman Biplane was dragged outside the hangar. There was a sea of analog instruments on the pilot’s cockpit. Mine was more of a cozy hollow space, right before the propeller and in front of the pilot’s. More than a cockpit, mine acted like a conduit for the controls being managed by the pilot sitting behind me. Every time the moustached pilot checked the flaps, I felt the long steel rods moving by my feet and them moving sections of the wings.
After the third yell of “Clear” by the smiling mechanic in front of the flying artifact, a successful fire sparked the gas engine. The propeller started turning slowly from a pop pop sound into a violent shudder, giving the illusion of spinning backwards at a higher speed.
The smell of gas went away quickly as the plane picked up speed towards the take off strip. Not sure how many yards we raced, but the red beauty lifted off gracefully and quickly, almost as if of paper. Makes you wonder how these biplanes flew when machine guns were placed on the front during unfriendly times. Bullets shot from the guns, used to fly through the propeller’s span in perfect timing without hitting it. Pure engineering.
We picked up altitude and due to the lack of radio, the cool pilot requested a thumbs up on occasion to make sure I was doing alright. I abided, but all I could do is continue to grin.
The best way to describe flying in a Bi-Plane is like being on a motorcycle through the sky. The wind in your face, the buffeting in your ears, the loud machinery and an immense sense of freedom. Vineyards, hills, and the California horizon. 1942 must have been a good year.