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One of my greatest experiences flying was a check out in a Waco UPF – 7. I always wanted to fly an open cockpit biplane and the experience exceeded expectations. I had some significant experience with tailwheel aircraft by this time but any way you look at it the airplane was a big step up from the J – 3 in which I received my tailwheel endorsement.
One beautiful summer day, more than twenty years ago, my instructor informed me that he wanted to fly to western Pennsylvania and suggested that I go with him in the Waco to get some cross-country experience in the aircraft. This was not a hard sell. Our destination was over an hour away so it was a significant amount of flying there and back. The destination was a grass field out in the country and a perfect venue for the Waco.
The owner of the L – 4J we wanted to see was waiting for us. The airplane was an interesting variation of the J – 3 I was familiar with, and something I had never seen at close quarters before. After a couple of hours and lunch at a local restaurant, it was time to head for home. My instructor was excellent. By this time we had been friends for years and worked well together. We communicated very effectively in the air. I took off and set up a course for home.
The Waco UPF-7 I flew post restoration.
It was a warm day and I sat in the open cockpit directly in a shaft of sunlight. I had the flying tasks to keep me occupied but after a time I had to laugh. There was a rear view mirror mounted in the center section so the instructor could keep an eye on the student in the rear cockpit. In this case it enabled me see that my instructor appeared to be fast asleep. His face was leaning on the leather coaming around the edge of the cockpit and he seemed as trusting as a child. I sat back and enjoyed the view of the surrounding countryside. Fields and farms passed beneath us. The flight was an epiphany. I adjusted my goggles and looked around marveling at where I was. I only wish it could have lasted longer, but all good things must come to an end, including this flight.
A dilemma arose. There was no activity in the front seat and the airport was in sight. It was becoming clear that I would have to land the airplane with no advice or coaching from the front cockpit.
Of course I had made a number of landings under supervision but this was a bit tricky. The airplane had moderately long oleo struts in the main gear legs. When landing until these struts were completely compressed by the weight of the airplane the angle of attack and the airplane’s forward speed could give it little choice but to try to fly, and this could induce a bounce bad enough to require a go around. Ask me how I know this.
With no traffic visible I entered a left base for the airport’s grass runway. I had been told over and over by this point that the aircraft’s best instrument was its windscreen and the importance of keeping my head up and eyes outside the airplane was emphasized. In this case, the sound of the engine and the wind in the wires told me what I needed to know about the airspeed on short final. I judged the flare accurately and set the airplane down in a three point. Judicious use of the elevator made the airplane come down and stay down. It wasn’t the sort of flourish reserved for a 1,000 hour pilot but it was competent and safe. I slowed to a walk and turned to taxi to the hangar to park the airplane.
With the engine shut down there were signs of life in the front cockpit. I couldn’t resist chiding my instructor about sleeping through the landing. He said, “ Oh no, I was watching you. I just wanted you to see that you could do it yourself. “ This was a great object lesson and a wonderful confidence builder. I have never forgotten it.