AOPA Centennial of Flight Sweepstakes

A Super Waco, but Not "Your" Waco

October 1, 2002

The 67-year-old barnstormer design is still in production

No, this is not your AOPA Sweepstakes Waco UPF-7. So why are we telling you about it? Partly to resolve the confusion, and partly to let you know that new biplanes based on a 1935 barnstormer design are still in production. It's a Waco YMF Super built a few months ago in Battle Creek, Michigan; AOPA's 1940 Waco is under restoration at Rare Aircraft in Owatonna, Minnesota.

The new Wacos in Michigan are based on the 1935 Waco YMF-5, the last of the commercial barnstormers. By the time your AOPA Centennial of Flight Sweepstakes Waco came off the production line the barnstorming era had ended: Your airplane was used to train future military pilots.

The original factory, according to Patrick J. Horgan, general manager of the Waco Classic Aircraft Corporation, built only 20 YMF models. Today's factory has done much better — it just completed the 100th Waco YMF, building them at the rate of seven or eight a year.

The Battle Creek factory

The Battle Creek factory is attached to the north side of the Centennial Aircraft Services FBO — under the same ownership as the factory — at W. K. Kellogg Airport. You can view construction of new aircraft and restoration of older Wacos through a window in the FBO office. The hangar on the south side of the office houses maintenance services for all types of GA aircraft, and it is filled with beautiful Waco biplanes. Many are getting routine maintenance or are housed there while the owner completes a 20-hour training course. The one flown for this article, serial number 97, has been there a year while the busy owners find time to complete their training.

The owners tend to be CEOs or key corporate players who buy the Waco YMF Super for personal enjoyment; prices range from $319,000 to $400,000, depending on equipment. AOPA Pilot tried and failed three times to fly the 100th Waco owned by Jim Bayman of Cleveland. Weather was the culprit twice; the third time it was in the shop to be upgraded with a horizontal situation indicator — something you wouldn't expect to find in a biplane.

One Waco YMF ride operator in the Memphis area boasts that the rear cockpit, where the pilot sits, is equipped "like a modern airliner." Most of these open-cockpit aircraft coming from Battle Creek are better equipped than many airliners. The last five built, for example, had Goodrich SkyWatch traffic alert systems, multiple GPS receivers, and were certified for IFR operations. Talk about having your head in the clouds! The aircraft are also certified for positive-G aerobatics, stressed for plus 5.8 and minus 2.3 Gs.

The 100th Waco

Bayman's Waco is equipped with an S-Tec autopilot with GPSS, meaning that this biplane will fly an approach by itself. He has a Garmin GNS 530 GPS in the rear cockpit, a Bendix/King KMD 150 GPS moving map up front, and traditional navigation radios. He also installed a refurbished antique military aircraft clock for the panel that provides the date and time. The recently retired computer executive has a family tie with the Waco name. His father owned two Wacos in the 1920s and 1930s, and he lived 20 miles from the Waco Aircraft plant in Troy, Ohio. Additionally, his father's cousin was involved with the design of the Waco troop-carrying glider used in World War II.

Some of the photos for this article were taken over Lake Erie's Rattlesnake Island, a private resort where Bayman may one day land his Waco on the 1,700-foot grass strip.

Aircraft appeals to all

Not all Waco owners are CEOs — some are average folks trying to make a living while following their dreams. Rick and Debbie Pellicciotti own a 1988 Waco YMF-5, serial number 17, and operate Belle Aire Tours at Charles W. Baker Airport in Millington, Tennessee, near Memphis. By day, Rick is a computer and networking consultant, while Debbie, a former teacher, is a technical writer for a software company. Call them at 901/481-1935 for a ride or their special "stick time" flight that allows the passenger to fly the aircraft.

"Rick saw the newly built model in 1989 and fell in love with it," Debbie recalled. "Then he saw an article in AOPA Pilot [" Quit the Day Job," November 2001 Pilot] about a couple that gave rides in Michigan and Florida in a Waco, and I said, 'Why don't we do that?'" The Pellicciottis wrote a business plan and attracted investors. They opened for business on weekends and evenings starting in July, and give a dozen rides a month. They are hoping that their proximity to a Nascar racetrack will attract customers.

The Pellicciottis have one of the earlier models. The Super model, the one with 300 changes to add comfort and sales appeal to the aircraft, started with serial number 40 in 1991. The company at first made its "Classic" version, which more nearly represents the actual historic Waco YMF-5 yet has the same modern avionics as the Super. For the Super, the company widened the fuselage by 3 inches and lengthened it by 6 inches, adding 4 inches in the rear cockpit and 2 in the front. Other changes include a balanced rudder (a portion of the rudder extends forward into the airstream to balance air loads), a larger door to the front cockpit, and a higher maximum gross weight (2,950 vs. 2,770 pounds for the earlier Classic YMF).

Restoration available

Like Rare Aircraft, Waco Classic Aircraft does restoration work. On the factory floor at the time of my visit was a 1941 Waco VKS-7 cabin aircraft, the last airplane model that the original Waco company ever sold. Horgan is a co-owner of the aircraft.

Beside it and awaiting restoration was a rare 1939 Waco ARE cabin airplane, the only one left in the world, Horgan said. The New York Daily News used this one for aerial photographs. Only four were ever built. Another restoration project is a Waco VPF-7 once used by the Guatemalan air force as a bomber. It features a sliding canopy.

In addition to restoration work, the company also repairs and maintains Wacos.

Hop aboard

Serial number 97 was built in 2001 and is identical to serial number 100 except for cockpit equipment. The biggest transition hurdle for any pilot new to large-biplane flying is the takeoff roll and landing rollout. Forward visibility is limited during those times, and the pilot must find new visual cues to avoid swerving on the runway. Company test pilot Carl Dye said it takes 20 hours of training for the new owner with little tailwheel time to adjust, and 15 for the more experienced tailwheel pilot. With 140 hours of tailwheel time, I am in the latter category.

The preflight is simple. Make sure there are no cockpit switches on and begin inspecting nuts and bolts. Fuel caps for the main and auxiliary tanks (combined they provide four hours of fuel) are checked for security by stepping on top of the wheel fairing and then onto a step on the side of the aircraft. Most owners prefer to fuel the airplane themselves from a ladder. Those who stand on top of the engine cowling will, over time, bend the cowling, Dye said.

The oil level should be at least three gallons; it holds five. (That's right — gallons, not quarts.) The prop must be pulled through at least two revolutions to make sure that oil has not settled in the bottom cylinders of the big 275-horsepower restored Jacobs R755B2 radial engine (the same one that will be on the AOPA Waco). If it has, it could cause a hydraulic lock and damage the engine on start-up. While at the front of the aircraft, check to see that the nuts on the propeller hub bolts are tight. The $2,700 Sensenich wood propeller expands and contracts with weather conditions, requiring the nuts to be adjusted. A mechanic found a loose nut prior to my flight.

Once inside the rear cockpit I raised the rear seat, at Dye's suggestion, to improve forward visibility. Still, there is basically nothing to see ahead during takeoff and landing with the aircraft resting on its tailwheel.

Mixture rich, throttle forward, and prime 12 times. Then hold the starter in and count six blades (three revolutions of the prop) before turning the magneto switch to Both. It catches instantly. The engine warms up at 600 rpm for 30 seconds, and it can then be increased to 1,000 rpm.

Taxi is, well, blind, requiring S-turning and careful attention to the sides of the taxiway to make sure that the aircraft stays on the centerline. The Cleveland brakes are very effective, but they require that the pilot's heels be canted inward with the toes resting on the middle of the rudder pedals. Otherwise the brakes will be pressed each time the rudder pedals are pushed to move the steerable tailwheel. Runup is accomplished at 1,600 rpm.

Time for takeoff

It's a windy day, the sort of weather I would rather not have for a first flight in a new tailwheel airplane. The Jacobs engine (call it Jake if you want to sound cool) responds instantly to power changes — no need to baby the throttle. Push the stick forward almost instantly after power up in preparation for raising the tail, which occurs after a few seconds of takeoff roll.

At 65 mph back-pressure can begin. My left toe is too far up the rudder pedal and I stab the left brake, swerving the aircraft left of the centerline briefly. After takeoff I lower the nose to reach V Y, or 76 mph. Once in level cruise and headed for Three Rivers Municipal Airport a few miles west for landing practice, I set the power at 2,000 rpm for a 105-mph cruise speed.

My first impression is of being inside a box kite, one that requires large control inputs. The Super is a gentle beast, more like a sleepy old dog than a hyperactive puppy. Stalls are nonevents. The airplane has lots of drag, meaning a power reduction to idle results in a healthy descent rate. This old dog knows a lot of tricks, ones I don't try, such as loops, hammerheads, aileron rolls, barrel rolls, and snap rolls. Loops are entered at 150 mph, while snap rolls require that the aircraft be slowed to 80 mph.

I take a moment to relax in straight-and-level flight, feel the wind, enjoy the unrestricted view, literally smell the grass below, and simply enjoy the outdoors experience of open-cockpit biplane flying. The Waco delivers adventure well.

Now, about landings

Normally, Dye would allow the student to concentrate on approaches and touchdowns for the first six hours while he keeps the rollout straight after landing. In my case, he allows me to get the full biplane experience on the first flight, but he helps as needed. He is needed.

The aircraft approaches at 85 mph, and Dye prefers a modified tail-low wheel landing to a three-point landing. I have always preferred to make three-point landings, even though a wheel landing improves forward visibility to some extent. I pick up the idea of a proper approach and, despite the nasty winds boiling over the trees at Three Rivers, I eventually make acceptable touchdowns on the wheels. When the tail comes down, though, the fun begins.

It takes time to develop the skill of looking side to side to keep the aircraft straight on the runway — it won't happen in the first hour. Sometimes the landing rollout goes well, but sometimes the aircraft takes me places that I never intended to go. I wish that I could say I was S-turning for better visibility. That excuse is difficult to believe, of course, since the aircraft is still moving at 60 to 70 mph at touchdown. At some point, the new skill of looking side to side and of taking in information from peripheral vision will kick in, Dye assures me. I agree. On the last landing I make a perfect touchdown, one that brings smiles even after taxi and shutdown, despite a swerve on rollout. I can anticipate a real sense of accomplishment once the early training hours have passed.

My quest for swerveless landings will continue as I learn to fly your AOPA Waco UPF-7 — but it's not yours until January 2004. Until then, I get to play with it.

E-mail the author at [email protected].

The Waco Aircraft Company Lives On

As many as 400 documents are ordered each year

A staff of five work to preserve documents pertaining to air- and spacecraft in a climate-controlled metal box on the grounds of the National Air and Space Museum's Paul Garber facility in Suitland, Maryland. The box sits inside the shell of a conventionally constructed building and is entered through a hatch like that of a meat locker. All day long the humidity is between 40 and 50 percent, and the temperature stays between 68 and 72 degrees F.

One of the collections comprises 25,000 engineering drawings of Waco aircraft in addition to business records of the Waco Aircraft Company, of Troy, Ohio. While the company is gone, its history is still alive.

While not among the most popular collections in the building — those honors go to such aircraft as the Wright Flyer — it comes close; orders for Waco documents total 300 to 400 a year. Documents are provided at cost to cover copying and shipping expenses. There are only a few rules: Documents are provided only to support historical research, such as the restoration of AOPA's 1940 Waco UPF-7 open-cockpit biplane. Documents may not be used to construct airworthy, human-carrying replicas of aircraft. (Apparently you can launch one full of canines and that would be OK.) Additionally, documents can't be used to support the type certificate process.

Orders are taken mostly by mail, although visitors can make an appointment to visit a reviewing room where documents will be delivered from the stacks by staff. Among the visitors to the Garber facility in recent years is Roy Redman, owner of Rare Aircraft, the company that is restoring your AOPA Sweepstakes Waco.

When possible the archivists will send the actual document if there is a surplus, but duplicates of UPF-7 documents are all gone. It was a popular model. Included among the carefully inventoried Waco documents is a sales brochure that list the "Department of Commerce requirements for pilots' licenses." The four categories of pilots' licenses were transport, limited commercial, industrial, and private. Private pilots had to have 10 hours of solo time, two hours of which must have been within the 60 days prior to the filing of the application.

The brochure included air traffic regulations such as, "Do not trust any altitude instrument. Learn to judge by the eye." And, "Machines with dead motors have right of way over all others." The brochure is not dated, but it has to be from the Waco company's earliest days. It shows specifications and prices for the Waco 90, the Waco 225 Straight Wing, and the 112-mph Waco 225 Taper Wing (that cost $8,525, by the way). Early Waco models were referred to by their horsepower, according to a National Air and Space Museum note with the collection.

The company was formed as Weaver Aircraft Company in 1920 by Clayton J. Bruckner, Elwood "Sam" Junkin, and George "Buck" Weaver. In April 1923 it was renamed Advanced Aircraft Company, and in May 1929 it became the Waco Aircraft Company. At its height the company had airplanes flying in 35 countries. During World War II the firm devoted itself wholly to the manufacture of troop- and cargo-carrying gliders. Waco withdrew from aircraft manufacturing in 1947, driven out by a slumping market coupled with the high development costs of a new design.

For a price sheet of Waco Aircraft Company drawings, write to the Smithsonian Institution, Post Office Box 64821, Baltimore, Maryland 21264. — AKM


Waco YMF F5C Super
Base price: $319,500
Price as tested: $381,541
Powerplant Jacobs R755B2, 275 hp @ 2,200 rpm
Recommended TBO 1,200 hr
Propeller Sensenich wood, 92-in dia
Length 23 ft 10 in
Height 8 ft 6 in
Wingspan Upper 30 ft, lower 27 ft
Wing area 234 sq ft
Wing loading 12.6 lb/sq ft
Power loading 10.7 lb/hp
Seats 3
Standard empty weight 1,985 lb
Empty weight, as tested 2,162 lb
Max gross weight 2,950 lb
Max useful load 965 lb
Max useful load, as tested 788 lb
Max payload w/full fuel 677 lb
Max payload w/full fuel, as tested 257 lb
Fuel capacity, std 49 gal(48 gal usable)
294 lb (288 lb usable)
Fuel capacity, w/opt tanks 74 gal (72 gal usable)
444 lb (432 lb usable)
Oil capacity 5 gal
Baggage capacity 75 lb rear, 25 lb forward
Takeoff distance, ground roll 600 ft
Takeoff distance over 50-ft obstacle 1,550 ft
Rate of climb, sea level 800 fpm
Max level speed, sea level 214 mph (182 kt)
Cruise speed/endurance w/45-min rsv, std fuel (fuel consumption)
@ 75% power, best economy, 5,000 ft 118 mph (104 kt)/2.5 hr; 4 hr w/opt tanks (90 pph/15 gph)
Landing distance over 50-ft obstacle 1,500 ft
Landing distance, ground roll 600 ft
Limiting and Recommended Airspeeds
V R (rotation) 65 mph (55 KIAS)
V X (best angle of climb) 72 mph (61 KIAS)
V Y (best rate of climb) 76 mph (65 KIAS)
V NE (never exceed) 214 mph (182 KIAS)
V S1 (stall) 59 mph (50 KIAS)
Landing approach speed 85 mph (72 KIAS)

For more information, contact Waco Classic Aircraft Corp., Post Office Box 1229, Battle Creek, Michigan 49016-1229; telephone 616/565-1000; fax 616/565-1100; e-mail [email protected]; or visit the Web site (

All specifications are based on manufacturer's calculations. All performance figures are based on standard day, standard atmosphere, sea level, gross weight conditions unless otherwise noted.

Al Marsh

Alton K. Marsh | AOPA Pilot Senior Editor, AOPA

AOPA Pilot Senior Editor Alton Marsh has been a pilot since 1970 and has an airline transport pilot certificate and instrument and multiengine flight instructor certificates, aerobatic training, and a commercial seaplane certificate.