Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Step Up To The Super


Yes, it is a NEW airplane


To stare out at the world from either seat in a Waco is to wonder where we’ve been and where we’re going. At first, it seems a confusing mélange: struts and brace wires and fairings and wings and wind and sky everywhere.

This is definitely old-school flying: a throwback to an easier time when skies were uncongested and life was less complicated. In those days, most airplanes had one round engine; fixed, conventional gear; and little more than needle, ball and airspeed on the panel. Most often, the sky above or the earth below (assuming you weren’t inverted) was separated from the aviator by nothing but air. Open cockpits, goggles and leather helmets were the rule rather than the exception, though with an eye to the future, Waco was also building a few cabin biplanes.

It’s true, from a distance, the 2010 Waco YMF-5D doesn’t look all that different from the old Waco UPF-7 of the ‘30s, and that’s deliberate rather than accidental. Waco Classic Aircraft of Battle Creek, Mich., wanted to preserve the classic, art-deco lines of the original airplane, and to that end, you can be forgiven if you regard a new Waco as an incredibly well-built replica.

Under the skin, however, you’ll find a myriad of improvements, something like 300 in all. After all, despite appearances, the 2010 Waco is a new machine, from spinner to tailwheel. Just as in the 1930s, each Waco is built entirely by hand, involving some 5,000 hours of labor. The fuselage is now constructed of 4130 steel tubing rather than the milled steel used in the 1930s. The Clark Y wing is still meticulously glued together with Sitka spruce, the original material, and the airplane is fabric covered, both highly labor-intensive pursuits.

It’s a design true to the original concept of the Waco UPF. A team of fanatical engineers and craftsmen set about producing a modernized, authentic replica of the antique biplane in 1986, and since then, Waco Classic has produced some 120 examples.

If you deal in averages, that’s only five airplanes a year, a rate that would bankrupt other companies, but Waco is a very small manufacturer, not looking to sell in vol-ume. In fact, the very scarcity of the type unquestionably contributes to its novelty value on the ramp and in the sky. Waco owner Peter Bowers purchased the company in 2008, and he hopes to eventually sustain production at eight airplanes a year.



Labels: Piston Singles

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