My Other Vehicle Was a Spacecraft
Now that the space shuttle has retired, astronauts are rediscovering the joys of flying airplanes.
- By Phil Scott
- Photographs by Robert Seale
- Air & Space magazine, July 2012
David Wolf’s first memory is of sitting in his uncle’s lap in an open-cockpit biplane (a Stearman). When he was 25, he learned how to fly in a Piper Warrior and a Pitts Special. A former U.S. Air Force flight surgeon, Wolf has flown on four space missions, including a 128-day stay aboard Russia’s Mir space station, from September 25, 1997, to January 31, 1998. As an active-duty astronaut, he has access to NASA’s T-38 Talon jets, which he flies a minimum of four hours a month. “Everyone I know who has flown the T-38, even those who fly advanced fighters, has a special attraction for the Talon,” says Wolf. “It just looks exactly right.”
When he is not flying the T-38 on official business, he takes to the air in his black Christen Eagle biplane, which he keeps at Pearland Regional Airport (formerly Clover Field), outside of Houston. Though he says the Christen “can be a bit loud” and difficult to maintain due to the many bolts on the access panels, Wolf appreciates the Eagle’s “old-style biplane structure and its strength and safety record.” The airplane is a good vehicle for the aerobatics he loves. An experienced aerobatics competitor, Wolf will resume flying at international meets when his schedule allows. His favorite maneuver? “I have always loved the gracefulness, and zero-G portion, of the hammerhead,” he says.