AOPA Pilot Magazine
September 2002 Volume 45 / Number 9
AOPA Centennial of Flight Sweepstakes: A Winning Combination
"That was some good flying"
If you won a ride in an open-cockpit Waco (pronounce it Wah-co), would the thought of taking the controls of this fabric-covered biplane with its seven-cylinder, 275-horsepower radial engine, stick (instead of a control wheel), and conventional (tailwheel) landing gear cause a little churning behind the belt buckle? The answer for most of us would be yes. Not so for Shannon Elliott of Lafayette, Louisiana. When Elliott got the phone call from AOPA telling him that he had won a checkout as part of the AOPA Centennial of Flight Sweepstakes, it's very likely that he rubbed his hands together and said, "Just show me where the master switch is, and pull the chocks." It's not that Elliott is cocky; it's just that biplane flying is what he does for fun.
The AOPA Centennial of Flight Sweepstakes, unlike the other airplane refurbishment projects that AOPA has sponsored since 1995, will be a two-year sweepstakes. Near the end of 2003, in conjunction with and in celebration of the first 100 years of powered flight in America, one lucky AOPA member will win a fully restored 1940 Waco UPF7. Throughout the next year and a half, a number of lucky AOPA members will be chosen at random to join the celebration by personally experiencing the feeling, sights, sounds, and smells of open-cockpit, radial-engine flying. Elliott took his Waco checkout in July at Mike and Kendle Hanson's biplane ride business in Long Beach, California.
This story starts in 1994 when Frank Kirschner, Mike Hanson's best friend, gave him a ride in his Stearman. What's a Stearman? It's a big, burly biplane used by the U.S. armed forces for primary pilot training during the 1940s.
That ride sparked Hanson to pursue flying. When Kirschner's health began failing, Hanson checked out in the Stearman so the pair could continue to fly together.
Kirschner, suffering from kidney cancer and nearing the end of his life, told Hanson, "I'm going to get my own set of wings where I'm going. Why don't you take care of that set of wings," ýeaning the Stearman. Hanson decided the best way to pass on what Kirschner had given him was to use the Stearman to turn on others to the joys of flying. That same airplane, sporting new paint and fabric, carried its first customer aloft a little more than two years ago.
Kendle and Mike met at Kirschner's memorial service. Mike's idea of a good first date was taking Kendle up for an aerobatic flight in a Cessna 152 Aerobat. She loved it and started taking flying lessons. Two days after she had passed her private pilot checkride, Mike asked her to be his wife. She accepted and they've been flying together ever since.
Within six months after the first customer climbed into the front cockpit of their Stearman, it was obvious that the Hansons needed a three-place biplane. When they found a 1986 Waco YMFF5C in Cape Cod for sale, the couple packed their warm clothes and headed east. In May 2001, after 35 flight hours and nine days of flying toward the setting sun, Hanson eased the stick back and N89B gently kissed the pavement of Runway 25L in Long Beach. Their business has been growing ever since.
Since he began flying in 1981, Shannon Elliott has spent a lot of time in airplanes with conventional landing gear. "They're a challenge," says Elliott.
The first airplane he bought was a taildragging Piper PA20 Pacer with a 135-hp Lycoming O-290 engine. Today, with more than 4,500 hours in his logbook, Elliott flies a Beechcraft A36 Bonanza to oversee his uncle's highway construction business. When the workday is over, "nd the A36 is safe in the hangar, Elliott and his uncle pull out the Stearmans (his uncle owns two) and they fly together over southern Louisiana.
Elliott rode into Long Beach on an airliner, grabbed some lunch, and was soon flying with Hanson in the Waco.
"The first day we flew over to Catalina Island and played around," said Elliott. "We did a few aileron rolls, a couple of hammerheads, and a loop. This Waco is very similar to the Stearman in control pressures, but it's much, much faster," he added.
The next day, Saturday, July 13, Elliott, Bob McClory, and Keith Mordoff gathered around as Hanson gave a ground briefing for the upcoming biplane formation flight.
McClory, Kendle's brother, would be flying the Stearman as Mordoff, AOPA's senior vice president of communications, took photos from the front cockpit.
McClory and Mordoff took off first in the Stearman and headed west. Hanson, having witnessed Elliott's flying prowess the day before, told Elliott that he would be the pilot in command. Then he invited Kendle to join him in the front cockpit.
"He can fly this airplane better than I can," said Hanson. "I've given over 700 scenic flights; I think Kendle and I will enjoy being passengers."
Elliott proved Hanson right by executing a smooth takeoff before turning north up the Los Angeles River.
The low-level northbound flight took in the Griffith Park Observatory, the Getty Museum, and the famous Hollywood sign. After a climb to 3,500 feet to comply with the Special Flight Rules route over the top of Los Angeles International Airport, Elliott transited he area and arrived at the Palos Verdes practice area. There he put the Waco through its paces loops, an aileron roll, a hammerhead, an Immelmann, and a two-turn spin. Dropping down to 1,000 feet agl, Hanson and the Waco joined up with McClory, Mordoff, and the Stearman for a loose formation flight along the coastline. The finale was a climb back up to pattern altitude on a routing that crossed over the Queen Mary before both airplanes joined the pattern at Long Beach.
Once the airplanes were secured, Mordoff presented Elliott with a wall plaque commemorating his Waco flight. As Mordoff and Elliott posed for the official handshake photo, Elliott remarked that Mordoff seemed to be vibrating a little. "I tell you," said Mordoff, "I'll never be the same." Elliott agreed, "This is really a beautiful place to fly and that was some good flying."
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