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Morning light warms Tom Brown’s QDC, which came to Wynkoop all the way from Unity, Wisconsin. (Don Parsons)

The Classic Wagon

Why families still travel in Wacos.

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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.”

The Heins clan was there too. Father Ed Heins, who died in 1991, flew C-47s in North Africa and Europe during World War II and bought his first Waco, a 1941 UPF-7, in 1957. Ed passed his obsession to his sons, Mike, Pete, and Andy. Pete arrived in the hottest Waco of its day, the CRG National Air Tour racer, only two of which were built in 1930. Each evening, Pete skywrote “Waco” overhead.

Andy managed to increase the size of his flying family by marrying Susan Theodorelos, whom he met on the Internet but wooed with a Waco. “We never talked about the flying because normally that’s the kiss of death for women,” he says. But Theodorelos told him that her dad had been a Navy pilot. “I said, ‘If you want to meet me, come down to the field.’ I’m standing there on a ladder with oil all down my pants, surrounded by about seven ‘supervisors’ all drinking beer, when Susan turned up. She walked over to the plane and started asking me all sorts of questions. I look up and all my buddies are giving me the thumbs-up signal.”

It was a relationship sealed with another Waco, an RNF open seater that Susan bought before she’d earned her pilot’s license. The couple now owns four Wacos and a house filled with Waco drawings, paintings, photographs, ads, company Christmas cards, data plates, instrument dials, and a large wooden propeller leaning in a corner.

John Fleischman is a frequent Air & Space contributor. Don Parsons has been photographing antique and classic airplanes for 37 years.

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