Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Step Up To The Super

Yes, it is a NEW airplane

The radial Jacobs R-755 is upgraded to provide 300 hp on takeoff.
What went before and still remains, however, makes the Waco YMF-5D perhaps the most unusual new aircraft on the market. From a distance, most pilots who didn’t come of age in the 1930s probably couldn’t tell the difference between a YMF-5D and one of the older open-cockpit Waco biplanes.

Today’s modern Waco is a three-seater, with an extra-wide bench seat up front and a single bucket in back. Wacos were popular barnstorming airplanes in those early years, and they continue to serve that market today. (In fact, as this article goes to press, Waco has announced a dedicated Barnstormer Edition, a more basic model intended specifically for hopping passengers in the front pit. One operator in Sedona, Ariz., uses a pair of bright-red YMF-5Cs for sightseeing flights around the red rock canyons of central Arizona.)

Climbing into the back pit of a Waco is exactly that, a climb, though not a long one. You step up and over the sidewall, lowering yourself into a world of luxurious leather. The front pit, sometimes referred to as the “money pit” by those who barnstorm their Wacos, has a door on the left side, a partial concession to the proximity of the top wing. Or perhaps it was intended to accommodate someone in a dress. Either cockpit is a comfortable enclosure, more than adequate to accommodate even big folks.

The sticks are conventional joysticks with polished wood hand grips, a nice touch of luxury somehow only appropriate to an airplane in this class. “This class,” incidentally, starts at $395,000 for the basic VFR airplane, transitions to $423,245 for an IFR Waco and can escalate to as much $495,000 if your credit line can bear the strain.

Engine start with the big, seven-cylinder radial is more satisfying than with the standard horizontally opposed powerplants. There’s that reassuring chug-a-put when the engine catches, then a series of puffs of smoke and bangs as all the cylinders vote on whether to run, and finally a smooth idle as everything settles down. The airplane comes off the blocks with minimum power, and the steerable tailwheel keeps the tail behind the pilot at all times.

I launched out of Florida’s Plant City Airport with Waco’s Bob Wagner in the back pit. Wagner is an air show pilot with thousands of hours in type, including carrying a wingwalker. He did most of the flight-test work on the D model, so if anyone should know the airplane, Bob would be the one.

Make no mistake, the Waco is one big biplane, especially in contrast to the Pitts or Great Lakes. Wagner and I were flying on the wing of a Skyhawk for Jim Lawrence’s camera, and the Waco dwarfed the little Cessna. Conversely, the YMF-5D’s easy formation manners made it a simple task to keep the airplane somewhere near where Lawrence needed it for air-to-air photos.

As with the T-6 and other big taildraggers, the tailwheel is lockable for takeoff, a hedge against overcontrolling on the ground. Gross weight is only 2,950 pounds, so full power produces reassuring pressure against the back rest. The Waco leaps into the air with either the standard 275 hp or optional 300 hp engine out front.

Labels: Piston Singles


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