With a minimal amount of planning, you can take a ride on a World War II Stearman biplane. The plane is housed at Lake Havasu Airport north of town on Arizona 95. It has been fully restored and painted the colors of the U.S. Navy planes of the era. The pilot will tell you the color scheme is so popular with Stearman owners that there are actually more planes sporting the Navy insignia than the Navy ever owned.
This one was used to train young military pilots in Yuma. At the war’s end, the military sold a large number of the planes. Many were outfitted with chemical tanks and had their engines boosted so they could go into service as crop-dusters. This particular plane went that route, as part of the Delta Airlines fleet of crop-dusters. Today, with its flawless paint and nearly new engine, the biplane enjoys the good life, taking relatively short spins over the lake and the city with tourists on board. Since it is an open cockpit plane, it affords a view like no other. To compare it to commercial air travel … well, there is no comparison.
The pilot explains over the headset intercom exactly what he is doing as he prepares for takeoff. For example, this type of plane is called a “tail-dragger.” That means the front of the plane sets up so high during taxiing that the pilot, sitting in the rear cockpit, can’t see the runway ahead. So, he weaves the plane from side to side to keep his bearing. During takeoff, the tail comes up quickly, leveling the plane and solving the visibility problem. In no time, the plane is cruising at 2,000 feet, the wind is rushing past, and, there beneath the wings, is a glorious panoramic of the famous blue lakewater.
The pilot is generous with information, pointing out landmarks and carrying on a casual conversation, like he’s done this a few hundred times. When the plane returns, he sets it down so gently that it’s difficult to tell whether the wheels are on the ground. Once you arrive at the hangar and he cuts the engine, your most likely thought will be, “I have to do this again!”
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