Barnstorming in the Blood
One of the world's most inventive pilots makes everything old look new again.
- By Debbie Gary
- Air & Space magazine, August 2010
(Page 3 of 3)
This is Mohr’s trademark. What started as necessity—he couldn’t afford more power to begin with—became virtuosity. He had to learn, he says, to fly the wing, not the engine. “Nobody else gets as much out of a 220-hp Stearman as I do,” he says. “Even guys with 450s are flying higher and don’t do as many maneuvers or put their shows together the way I do.”
It is easy to see why fans expect a showplane to be modified. Many show pilots spend huge amounts of money to get more performance. In the past, prominent Stearman show pilots, such as Joe Hughes and the Red Baron Squadron, doubled and tripled their engines’ output for wingwalking and formation acts. They added streamlined cowlings, nose cones to cover the propeller hubs, fairings on wheels, and ailerons to their top wings to boost roll rate. The stock Stearman has none of this. With all its wires, struts, knobby tires, prominent exhaust pipe, and seven cylinders sticking out in the wind, it is as streamlined as a pine cone.
Mohr stopped flying the airplane-to-helicopter transfer act after about eight years because crew, maintenance, and insurance became prohibitively expensive. A few years ago, he revived it, partnering with Roger Buis, who flies the “OTTO The Helicopter” comedy act, and longtime stuntman Todd Green. The three of them ham it up, dance around, fly side-by-side hammerheads with Green hanging by his elbow from Otto’s landing skid until Buis lowers him into a cloud of smoke on the ground.
A barnstormer’s grandson, Mohr grew up thinking of new ways to fly old airplanes. He’s still thinking, and developing the next act, which for now he is keeping behind his own smoke screen.
Writer and airshow pilot Debbie Gary has enjoyed writing about the best in her profession in Air & Space’s trilogy of features on airshow performers.