Saturday, December 13, 2003

Travel Air 4000

On December 13 2003, I visited the McClellan-Palomar Airport, home to Barnstorming Adventures Ltd.  Thanks to these fine folks, I spent about 40 minutes flying a restored 1929 Travel Air 4000 biplane over the Pacific coastline.  Because most of my time was spent actually flying the aircraft, I took very few pictures. 

NC674H is a 1929 Travel Air 4000 - a fabric-skinned historical artifact sporting a radial engine and a beautiful wooden prop.  According to the folks at Barnstorming Adventures, this aircraft was originally flown by Chicago detectives and carried a bloodhound used to track the thugs that have become so emblematic of organized crime in early 20th century Chicago. 

Once seated in the Travel Air, I looked to my right and noticed a T6 Texan sitting on the ramp nearby - another one of the toys belonging to Barnstorming Adventures.

Once established at a cruise altitude of 1500 feet, I took over the controls and directed the biplane south along the Pacific shoreline.  Torn between wanting to sight-see and fly the airplane, I did several steep turns as we buzzed southward.  At 85 mph, we would not even outrun a Cessna 150, but the ride was smooth, the airplane stable, and it was all tremendously fun.

La Jolla, home to the Pfizer R&D facility that brought me to California in the first place, sits on a peninsula that juts out into the Pacific Ocean.  La Jolla marked the end of our southward trek; it was time to return to Palomar Airport.  As we circled over the ocean, we watched a pair of dolphins playing below.  Though difficult to see underwater, they would often break through the surface, streaking through the air momentarily before splashing back under the waves.

Once I acknowledged to Eric, the pilot in command, that I had captured a photo of La Jolla, he responded with "ok, your airplane".  I took control of the stick again and began my customary scan for traffic.  Immediately, I spotted a Piper Cherokee at 11 o' clock low climbing right toward us!  Eric spotted him just as I did and immediately banked the biplane into a hard right turn.  We later realized that we had been between the Piper and the sun, which probably made it virtually impossible for him to see us.  A few minutes later, we spotted the Piper again, cruising along below us.  Eric offered to take control again if I cared to snap a photograph of the, as he put it, "airplane that almost ruined [my] vacation".  

I guided the biplane back to Palomar and flew the pattern until we were a few tens of feet above the runway.  On short final, I surrendered the controls to Eric, who made a smooth wheel landing on the uphill grade of Palomar's runway 24.  I couldn't have asked for a better way to spend a warm California winter afternoon!