Sticks for Hire
"Uh oh. Why is this piston rod left over?" Meet the pilots who are gutsy enough to fly freshly restored airplanes.
- By Mark Huber
- Air & Space magazine, July 2003
(Page 4 of 4)
Naturally, Holm’s friend, Wayne Wainwright, chose him to help test fly his 1945 Russian-built Yak-11. Wainwright had spent 10 years and 14,000 hours restoring and modifying the airplane. He had stuffed a Pratt & Whitney R-2000 radial engine (taken from an old DC-4 airliner) into the nose. He had reworked the cowling to improve air flow over the cylinders. He had a craftsman in Texas fashion a new prop spinner, and had almost all of the metal reworked and painted a glossy two-tone gray. When he was through, Wainwright had a 515-mph hot rod that climbed at 5,000 feet per minute through 16,000 feet, a rate of climb better than that of most civilian jets. But he hadn’t flown it, or much of anything else, in two years. Being a cautious man, he wanted an experienced test pilot like Holm to accompany him in the rear cockpit while he reacclimated himself to his airplane.
On an overcast afternoon last October, Holm drove his bronze Mercedes through the gates of the airport in Camarillo, California, and past a duo of Lockheed Constellations. At Wainwright’s hangar, Holm and Wainwright pored over the Yak like two high schoolers who had just been given the keys to their first car. Holm nonchalantly cross-examined Wainwright about modifications made to the Yak, and Wainwright beamed while he explained the details. As the two men climbed into the cockpit, Wainwright shouted back over his shoulder, “Don’t assume anything.”
The Yak snapped off the runway, went wide in the pattern to avoid much slower traffic, and made three good landings. Afterward, Wainwright presented his logbook to Holm for endorsement, smiled, and asked, “What are you doing Saturday?”