The Classic Wagon
Why families still travel in Wacos.
- By John Fleischman
- Photographs by Don Parsons
- Air & Space magazine, June 2010
(Page 3 of 4)
By then, Waco lovers were pondering the legacy of the airplane. The National Waco Club had been founded in 1958 by five enthusiasts at Ottumwa, Iowa, and the first fly-in was held in 1959 at the South Dayton Airport in Ohio (now called Moraine Air Park). Ten Wacos made it.
The ringleader was Ray Brandly, an ex-B-17 pilot who in the mid-1950s took part ownership of a 1941 Waco UPF-7, an open-cockpit trainer, 600 of which had been sold to the Civilian Pilot Training program. Throughout the 1950s, Brandly grew fascinated by Wacos while they spun out their days as charters, skywriters, and crop dusters. He discovered the old factory’s stockpile of parts in Troy and approached Brukner, who, puzzled by interest in his obsolete airplane, agreed to sell Brandly what was left.
In later years, Brukner’s puzzlement only grew. He became a regular guest of honor at National Waco Club fly-ins before his death in 1977. Though he earned his pilot’s license in 1928, by all accounts he had given up flying by the mid-1930s. Forty years later, the old man was flattered by all the fuss of the Waco revival.
That revival was fueled by Brandly, who died in 1996, according to Dick and Patsy Jackson of Rochester, New Hampshire. They own a rare-as-hen’s-teeth 1934 S3HD, the only known survivor of Waco’s efforts to market a military fighter. Jackson recalled his first visit to Brandly and his stash of Waco parts: “Ray had a barn full of wings and all sorts of stuff. That was 50 years ago and all that stuff is long gone.” Pointing to the rows of restored Wacos at the Mount Vernon fly-in that day, Jackson added, “You’re looking at a lot of it right now.”
Wacos have a way of running in families. A good example: Alan Buchner’s 1932 QDC cabin. In 1972, Buchner discovered the QDC, wings removed, standing on its nose to save space in a Merced, California barn that housed farm equipment. It took three years and two owners before he got his hands on it, and another 15 to restore it. Two years into the project, he got the FAA paperwork, only to discover that his father, Les, had been the QDC’s fifth owner, having bought it in 1938.
A Waco rebuild can run anywhere between $150,000 and $200,000, says Scott Shue, who restores them with his father John in Emigsville, Pennsylvania. John Shue bought his first Waco in 1964, when Scott was five. Scott helped rebuild the UPF-7, and soloed it on his 16th birthday. Between commercial restorations, they’re in the midst of a complete rebuild of the family Waco. “Only two more years to go,” says Scott.
Those without patience or a rebuildable Waco can order a new open-cockpit YMF-5 from the Waco Classic Aircraft Corporation of Battle Creek, Michigan. Built to the original Bureau of Air Commerce Type Certificate first issued in 1935, each new YMF-5 comes with “300 reliability and safety improvements,” says the company, all of it starting at $395,500. These new Wacos are among the handful of Golden Age airplanes, such as the Great Lakes 2T-1A, that have gone back into production.
You don’t have to own a Waco to love them. Doug Parsons estimates that a third of National Waco Club members don’t have airplanes. Tom Woodburn, from Glen Allen, Virginia, is a club member still on foot, but he’s been restoring his 1935 YOC cabin since 1999. He recently found replacements for Waco’s no-longer-manufactured compression struts, which hold the wings up on the ground and down in flight. “I’ve still got a long way to go, but this is a major advance,” says Woodburn, looking not the least bit discouraged. His wife Jane sat by his side in the refreshment tent, chatting with friends they’ve made in the two decades that they’ve been coming to fly-ins without a Waco. “Part of the joy is the search for parts,” says Woodburn. “That’s why an organization like this is so valuable. You tell people, ‘Hey, here’s what I’m looking for,’ and someone will say, ‘Oh, I know a fellow who has two of those.’ I bet that conversation goes on about a hundred times a day here.”