Dave and Jeanne Allen flew their 1930 Waco ASO from Elbert, Colorado, to Antique Airfield in Iowa this year, not only for the Antique Airplane Association‘s annual fly-in, but also for the 15th reunion of the 2003 National Air Tour.
Dave and Jeanne are well known in the antique community as a husband-and-wife restoration team. Together they have tackled several Waco projects, each of which represents their superlative attention to detail.
Their first project was a homebuilt Taperwing Waco replica, which took 6-½ years to build.
“It was a neat airplane, but our home field is at 7,000′ msl, which becomes 10,000′ in the summer with density altitude and that M6 airfoil did not get along with that,” says Dave. “We really wanted a Straightwing Waco from the beginning, so then we did this one. It only took 4-½ years, because these wings are a lot easier to build. We had seen photos in Ray Brandly’s Waco books of John Livingston’s and Art Davis’ Waco Straightwings, which came in first and second in the 1929 National Air Tour. We really liked that paint scheme with ‘WACO’ on the fuselage, so we ‘plagiarized’ that and put it on ours.”
They used the Poly-Fiber fabric covering process for the Waco, with final coats of Nevada Silver Poly-Tone, stock Cruiser Orange, and a vibrant blue they mixed themselves, using three parts Eagle Blue and one part Bahama Blue of Aerothane. As a finishing touch, they hand rubbed the Aerothane to a lustrous sheen.
Powered by a Wright Whirlwind R-760, the Straightwing has a 60 gallon fuel capacity and burns 11 gph.
Dave and Jeanne completed NC662Y and started flying it in 2002. As it turned out, their timing was serendipitous, for they soon heard about the Aviation Foundation of America re-creating the 1932 National Air Tour to celebrate the Centennial of Flight in 2003. Two dozen vintage airplanes would fly 4,000 miles along the route of the uncompleted 1932 tour, and Dave and Jeanne wanted to be part of it.
“We called the organizer, Greg Herrick, and said, ‘wow, we’d really like to participate in the Air Tour; we’ve got a Straightwing painted like John Livingston’s and Art Davis’ Straightwings. We’ll even take out a second mortgage if we have to, just to be part of it!” laughs Dave, reminiscing. “We ended up flying the whole tour with this Waco. It was a life-altering event, it really was. There were 80 people and two dozen old airplanes flying. It was just so much fun.”
“The running joke in the Waco world was ‘you can’t go cross country in a Straightwing’ because it’s too slow,” he continues. “It cruises at 90 mph indicated and we’re normally doing about 100 mph over the ground with no wind. You fly a long time in one place, but we enjoy it and it’s kind of a barnstorming type thing.”
Jeanne, who is also a pilot, thoroughly enjoyed the Air Tour as well.
“We had all these people from all over the country and we were able to work together. Somehow we just all meshed, and everybody had a role to fill as we were flying from one stop to the next. I would say we all enjoyed each other’s company and made friends forever,” reflects Jeanne. “I mean we see these people at different fly-ins and reminisce about the days we were flying together. Just being in the sky with old airplanes flying together does make you feel like you were in that 1930s era when it was a lot less hectic. It was just a slow enjoyable time in the air.”
The pilots not only served as ambassadors for general aviation during the 2003 tour, they were also assigned a 1930s aviation persona to emulate while mingling with the public at the different airports along the way. Not surprisingly, Dave was honoring John H. Livingston (whose original tour number 26 adorns NC662Y’s vertical stabilizer), and Jeanne was honoring Mrs. Jessie Keith Miller, an early pioneering aviatrix from Australia who became well known in America for her aviation achievements.
“Once we had refueled our airplanes, people could come out and talk to us and see the airplanes up close,” explains Dave. “The entire tour was an incredible experience and our Straightwing made it possible for us to participate.”
Dave and Jeanne also flew NC662Y during several of the American Barnstormer Tours.
“Those air tours just take you back – I mean if you don’t look real hard, you would think it was 1930. It’s just a really neat kind of flying, and Jeanne is always right in there helping me on the projects and pitching in with navigation while we’re flying.”
They’ve kept their Straightwing in tiptop shape ever since 2002, evidenced in part by its award of Reserve Grand Champion Antique at SUN ‘n FUN 2016. They’ve logged nearly 1,100 hours on it, and everywhere they fly, they continue to pay tribute to the Golden Age of Aviation.
Dave and Jeanne both enjoy the way the Straightwing handles.
“It’s not heavy on the controls at all,” says Jeanne. “When I’m holding the iPad in the front cockpit and using ForeFlight, I’m barely holding the stick and it’s just very responsive.”
They’ve flown the Waco to Florida for two winters, where they can fly it frequently in the nice weather.
“It’s just delightful to fly, it’s a nice ship,” Dave says. “And like any taildragger with a full-size round engine, you need to use peripheral vision to keep it going straight during takeoff or landings. We don’t fly it as often as we should, but this year we took it to Junction City for the National Biplane Fly-In and to Creve Coeur for the Waco fly-in, and we’ve done a few rides at home in between.”
They do enjoy going “Back to Blakesburg” for the annual fly-in, primarily for the people and the variety of old airplanes they get to see there.
“This is a more hands-on and experiential fly-in, and we really enjoy that aspect of it and seeing people flying all day and all the flivver airplanes,” says Dave.
Jeanne adds, “If you have any problem with your aircraft, this is the place to be, because you’ll be able to talk with people here who have the expertise with old airplanes, and they can pretty much help you get your questions answered.”
On the Horizon
After the Straightwing project, Dave and Jeanne successfully took on the challenge of restoring a 1934 Cabin Waco YKC to award-winning status (2013 Oshkosh AirVenture Antique Grand Champion, 2013 Antique Airplane Association Grand Champion (Pre-1936), and 2014 SUN ‘n FUN Antique Grand Champion).
One thing’s for certain – this aviation couple doesn’t stay idle for long. They just can’t seem to resist taking on yet another airplane project. Now they are completing a PA-11 restoration.
“Firewall forward is all we have left to do on that. The engine is hung and we’re working on the cowling. And we’ve got an RNF in the wings,” says Dave with a smile, “That’s the definition of optimism — starting on a Waco biplane project in your mid-70s! I just turned 73 and I had a thought the other day that I should fly that RNF on my 80th birthday. In fact, why not fly all three of them — the Straightwing, the Cabin, and the RNF — on my 80th birthday?”
Jeanne chimes in with a laugh and admonishes Dave, “Oh yeah, you should! So you better get with it and get to work on that RNF – what are you doing here at the fly-in?”
We’ll be looking forward to seeing what is sure to be a pristine PA-11 on the flight line in the next year, and in a few years, the Waco RNF — time to get to work, indeed, to continue paying homage to the Golden Age!