First of all I would like to say thank you, thank you, thank you to AOPA for this wonderful experience.
This was by far the best vacation we have had, and believe it or not, nothing went wrong. We had a lot of help from what my wife Amanda would call our little angels throughout our trip.
We left Cleveland on Friday morning. I met the pilots of our flight, Capt. Toby Pechanec and F.O. Kevin Finke, who gave me a tour and took our pictures in the cockpit. Our many thanks. We arrived in Phoenix to 80-degree weather, picked up our rental car, and drove to Sedona. The first thing we noticed was the lack of grass.
After checking in, I contacted Eric Brunner at Red Rock Biplanes to arrange to fly. We decided to wait until Saturday morning because of the lateness. So Amanda and I decided to take a tour of the area and have dinner. What a spectacular and beautiful area! If you haven't been there, I would highly recommend it.
Saturday morning when I arrived at the airport, it was 35 degrees outside and partly cloudy. I met with Eric and we decided to fly to the west rim of the Grand Canyon. After the thorough preflight we were off. After breaking from the ground and gaining a little altitude, Eric handed the controls over to me. A little trim up and off we went. What can I say? Wow! The view, the plane, just the feeling of freedom! You could tell the plane was where it belonged. I was surprised at how quiet it was in the open cockpit. I was amazed at how light the controls felt, seeing as the Waco has two wings and a double set of ailerons.
When crossing the Grand Canyon, you have to cross at 8,000 feet because of noise requirements. By the time we reached that altitude, the temperature had dropped to 6 degrees. Eric informed me that the front cockpit is 10 to 15 degrees warmer than the rear, and I guess I have to take his word for it because he took the controls and told me to turn around. Sure enough, he had a contrail coming from his mouth. Luckily, by this time the airport was within view and Eric landed expeditiously at Grand Canyon West (1G4), where we went inside the airport to warm up. I left Eric to warm up and took a trail at the back of the airport that lead to the edge of the canyon. Three-plus miles and an hour and a half later, I returned to the airport to a concerned Eric, but the view was so spectacular that I lost track of time.
Back into the plane, we headed to Kingman, Arizona (LGM). After crossing the mountains, we descended to keep warm. Kingman Airport was a B-17 base during the war. Now it's primarily a light jet and private pilot airport.
While we were on the ground topping off, some older pilots were explaining to Eric how to fly and maintain a Waco biplane. The funny thing is that all their time combined is what Eric logs in six months or less. Eric is 31 years old and has logged over 7,000 hours in Wacos alone (boy what a tough job!). On departing Kingman, Eric demonstrated a crosswind takeoff, and we headed back to Sedona. Along the way he pointed out a house that someone built to look like a flying saucer. We landed in Sedona just around sunset, and words cannot describe the beauty of the red rock mountains veiled under the setting sun on a downwind approach to the east. By the time we had landed, the temperature had dropped to 25 degrees, and we attempted to take pictures while shaking like a leaf.
If you're ever in Sedona, Arizona, and want to take a flight of a lifetime, I would definitely recommend Eric Brunner and Red Rock Biplane Tours!
To the person who wins the Sweepstakes Waco, you'll be the envy of tens of thousands of pilots—me especially! You lucky, lucky, lucky dog!
Thanks again to everyone.