Biplanes and barnstormers

WACO Museum Fly-In lands in Troy

by Andy Hertel
Photo: A row of vintage biplanes on display in Troy; photo: Tom Pawlesh

 

The Dayton area’s aviation heritage is rich and well-documented, from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and its National Museum to the Wright Brothers’ original workshop, but one would be remiss to not include Troy’s lesser-known WACO Air Museum in this discussion as well. The museum hosts its annual Fly-In and Homecoming Sept. 12-14, as owners and enthusiasts gather to celebrate WACO biplanes and other vintage aircraft.

Founded in 1978, the WACO (pronounced like “taco”) Historical Society oversees the museum and aims to preserve the history of Troy’s WACO Aircraft Company. Producing a variety of models beginning in 1919, it specialized in civilian biplanes until ceasing operations in 1947. According to its website, the organization also aims to instill a love of aviation in future generations through educational programs in math, science, technology and history, as well as interactive events such as the upcoming fly-in.

“We are really looking forward the WACO Fly-In and Homecoming this year,” museum director Gretchen Hawk said. “It is an opportunity for people to experience the Golden Age of Aviation as they watch and hear the great planes that originally came from Troy. We are also expecting a number of vintage general aviation pilots to bring their planes to join in the festivities.”

Saturday, attendees can expect to find children’s activities organized by the historical society, food vendors and the opportunity to purchase airplane rides, weather permitting. WACO rides will also be available Sunday.

WACO Field, the site of the fly-in, opened in 1997 and was funded by donations through the Historical Society. The 77-acre site features a 2,200-foot runway, and continues to be maintained by volunteers. It includes a restored historic 1850s-era barn, and a 7,500 square foot hangar, housing the museum, gift shop, research library and conference room. Renovations in 2009 and 2012 added an additional hangar displaying vintage aircraft, a picnic shelter and Quonset hut.

The museum also hosts annual summer camps each June for area fourth- through sixth-graders, as well educational outreach programs on-site and at local airports through its Aviation Learning Center. A separate runway and shelter is available for radio-controlled aircraft hobbyists, and is home to the WACO Barnstormers RC Club.

Although WACO Field maintains a busy year-round schedule, staff and local pilots alike mark the fly-in on their calendars as a “can’t miss” event each fall.

“I really enjoy giving rides to my friends throughout the day and participating in the parade of WACOs,” said Marla Boone, local WACO owner and pilot, and former Chairman of the Board of the Historical Society. “The parade of WACOs consists of anyone who wants to join in flying by the crowd one by one while a local expert on WACOs, Andy Heins, tells the crowd about that particular airplane.

“It took me until I was 26 to have the money and time to learn to fly,” Boone explained. “My family was not thrilled with my decision. I was told this was not something girls did which is, of course, patently ridiculous.”

This tenacity paid dividends for Boone, and left her better prepared for some of the more unusual circumstances encountered during her time as chairman.

“We have been involved for over 20 years,” she continued. “One memorable event – but not in a good way – was when I was the fly-in chairman in 2003. This year was the centennial of powered flight and we wanted it to be special. One week beforehand we were notified then-President George W. Bush had decided to make a campaign stop in Troy the day of the fly-in. That meant no flying for an extended period during the day. The morning of the fly-in my phone rang and the man on the line said, ‘This is Agent _____ with the United States Secret Service and I want your personal guarantee there will be no remote controlled aircraft flying for a 24-hour window surrounding the president’s visit.’ Talk about a wake-up call!”

Owning a WACO fosters a sense of pride and community among pilots and enthusiasts.

“My husband Steve and I are so enamored with our WACO that we are restoring a second one just like the one we are currently flying,” Boone said. “It had sat in a barn in Dayton for over 40 years. The wood, naturally, is ruined, but we are reusing all the hardware we can. It means a great deal to us to enable these parts to return to the sky and to fly again. We are looking forward to having his and hers WACOs.”

Contrary to the romanticized, glamorous lifestyle associated with early daredevil pilots, modern WACO owners are often unassuming outside the cockpit.

“Many people assume that if you own an airplane you are wealthy,” Boone noted. “Not necessarily. Flying can be expensive but everyone’s folly is worth what they are willing to pay for it. Flying is the cheapest psychiatrist you will ever find.”

The 2014 WACO Fly-In and Homecoming begins Friday, Sept. 12 at 9 a.m., and continues Saturday, Sept. 13 from 9 a.m.–5 p.m., and concludes Sunday, Sept. 14 at 4 p.m. WACO Field is located at 1865 South County Rd. 25A in Troy. For directions or for more information, please call 937.335.9226 or visit wacoairmuseum.org.

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