When my daughter said, “Dad, let’s go flying!”, my first thought was a commercial flight to Colorado for ski adventure. That sounded like a great idea to me. But my daughter meant the newest and most exciting adventure in Austin: flying above the skyline in a red Austin biplane.
I thought of Snoopy and the Red Baron, or barnstorming in a leather flying cap, goggles, bomber jacket, and scarf … just like they did in the 1920’s. According to Wikipedia, “Barnstorming” was a form of entertainment in the Roaring 20s’s. Stunt pilots would perform tricks to impress people by showing off pilot skills and airplane sturdiness.
It sounded like fun to me. And USA Today says it’s one the best and most fun things to do in Austin.
Preparing For The Austin Aerial Adventure I’ll Never Forget
It took me about 30 seconds to say, “Let’s do it!”
While I was a tad nervous, I couldn’t let it show. Nor could I let my daughter down.
It wasn’t long before we arrived at Signature Flight Support located on the edge of Austin Bergstrom Airport. Right away, we spotted this bright and shiny red biplane. It was super-cool and a very impressive machine. I hoped it flew as good as it looked.
We were warmly greeted by Rob Whiteside, a retired and well-decorated US Air Force combat pilot. He was experienced with F-16s and U-28As. That helped build my confidence. We were in good hands.
I still had to ask a lot of questions before jumping into an antique biplane with an unknown pilot:
- How many missions did you fly? His response: “480 flying missions in hostile territory as both an active-duty and civilian-contract pilot.” Okay, I can live with that answer.
- Do you need any certifications to fly us? His response: “I’m certified as an airline transport pilot and certified flight instructor including instrument instructor. That was a good, reassuring answer.
- Is this a vintage 1935 biplane? His response: “Nope, it’s a 2012 Waco YMF-5 and it maintains the look and feel of a classic aircraft but is manufactured under today’s fabrication and safety standards.” I loved that answer.
I wanted to see his maintenance records, but my daughter punched me in the ribs and said, “Let’s go!”
Climbing Into the Austin Biplane For the Ride of Our Lives
We waited a couple of minutes while the pilot filled the plane with fuel. While waiting, I inspected the biplane (tires looked good, rudder moves, it has a propeller albeit a wooden one, etc.). Afterward, I watched the pilot fill it with fuel and asked a couple of questions. I wanted to ensure he gave us enough fuel and was well qualified to fly. Then I took his picture so I could identify him if we ran out of fuel while in the air.
All gassed up, Rob said, “Climb aboard!” That wasn’t easy for an old man with no flexibility and who can’t bend his knees due to a skiing accident.
With some pushing, shoving, and grunting, I finally plopped into the front seat. “Where is my daughter going to sit?” I asked.
As it was, she easily slid into her side of the cockpit and we donned our WWI-era leather helmets. Then we tested our radio communications with Rob, who sat behind us. I have no idea how his 6′ 5″ broad-shouldered body got into that tiny cockpit.
As the engine warmed, Rob gave us a couple of critical instructions (“Don’t stick your head outside the windshield, and there is a bag in the right pocket if you feel sick.”).
“Where are the parachutes?” That’s all I really wanted to know!
Up, Up, and Away!
Suddenly, the wooden propeller, just four feet or so in front of me, started whumping and smoothed into a steady pitch. Rob gassed it and we rolled forward down the runway. I began to worry a bit as he zig-zagged down the runway (had he been drinking?). As he taxied, he explained, “I can’t see anything because the front part of the plane sits higher than I do, so I need to weave from side to side to see what’s in front of me.”
As he said that, I watched a couple of commercial airplanes take off on the runway we were headed toward. I thought, Don’t worry, Rob is an experienced F-16 pilot and surly this isn’t his first take off from the busy Austin Airport! After waiting for a couple of Southwest Airline planes to land and take off, we taxied to the runway. Without warning, the Top Gun-themed hit song “Danger Zone” broke into my headphones. Within seconds, we were in the air.
A couple of minutes later, we were flying 95 miles an hour 1,000 feet above the ground. We were on our way to downtown Austin.
Over the next 20 minutes, we banked over the Capital of Texas, the University of Texas campus, and Longhorn Stadium. Then we flew along Lake Austin and the 360 bridge, observed the slow moving traffic jam on I-35, buzzed the Austin Country Club, looked down upon South Congress Avenue, flew around Roy Kizer Golf Course, and saw several other beautiful sights around Austin.
After we flew over downtown Austin, Rob said, “Get your camera ready, I’m going to bank sharply right.” I grabbed my daughter’s leg (was it nerves or to hold her in the plane?) as she confidently took pictures with her iPhone. The plane tilted so could fly at what seemed like a 90-degree angle.
Even Austin Biplane Adventures Must Come To An End Sometime
All too soon, we were headed back toward the airport. I held my breath hoping that Rob could see above the nose of the plane and know when to slow down. No big deal, his landing was smooth as silk and we zig-zagged back to his office with a huge smile on our faces.
Wow! That was fun, unique, and exciting. Let’s do it again.
Austin Biplane offers a number of different flights that last from 20 to 45 minutes. You can choose from a 20-minute flight over Austin; the “Red Baron Aerobatic Flight” where you’ll experience a loop, barrel roll, and wingover; or the Sunset Champagne Flight where you can sip champagne as you fly over Lake Travis and watch the sun set.
You can also capture your entire experience forever. The plane is equipped with two GoPro cameras mounted on each wing, and one GoPro is provided for use in the front cockpit. The SD cards are available after the flight, or footage from all of them can be combined afterwards into an edited movie to keep forever. You can also take vintage-looking photographs with the plane, complete with your early 19th century flying regalia, which Rob provides.
This unique experience is a popular gift for anniversaries, birthdays, and other special occasions. Plus, anyone from 5 to 95 will enjoy a flight with Rob, who is an excellent pilot.
Give Austin Biplane a call for a fun flight.