Ever wonder what it’s like to be the Red Baron? Or Indiana Jones? Or Snoopy? To do so, one needn’t participate in an aerial dogfight, crash land in the jungle, or sit atop a doghouse, cursing the aforementioned wily WWI German ace pilot. Black &White Biplane (B&W) offers flights in an authentic, re-built 1930’s open cockpit biplane. Owned and operated by Brian Beker, B&W is based at the Santa Monica Airport, and offers a flying experience that harkens back to the pioneering days of aviation in a plane that is 100 percent safe and utterly exhilarating.
As Mr. Beker escorted my traveling companion and me onto the tarmac, he explained a bit about the aircraft as well as Santa Monica’s proud, if somewhat unknown, aviation history. B&W’s Waco YMF-5 biplane is the top-of-the-line luxury sport biplane. Still manufactured at a factory in Battle Creek, Michigan, the Waco is the only airplane without Airworthiness Directives issued against it, meaning that no safety issues of a serious enough nature to mandate action have ever been uncovered in it. “The Waco is the best biplane out there, and our Waco is the finest of them all. I rebuilt it myself, and the airplane is perfect. It hums along,” Mr. Beker informed us.
Mr. Beker, a cordial and friendly host, continued his informative talk, noting that Santa Monica Airport had a huge role in winning WWII – the Douglas DC-3 was built right here. It was the transport aircraft that is credited with giving the U.S. the logistical advantage that won the war.
We finally arrived at the actual aircraft which seemed like an antique compared to the sleek corporate jets surrounding it. After a brief safety lecture, we settled into the front cockpit, Mr. Beker assuring us that he could see, and, via old-fashioned cloth and leather headsets that made us look like something out of an old movie, also hear us, wind noise notwithstanding.
We taxied to the end of the runway and were soon airborne and heading north along the coast. The views of Santa Monica, Malibu, and points beyond and in between were breathtaking; my companion and I could barely wipe the smiles off our faces for the entire ride, which was surprisingly smooth, despite the powerful wind that buffeted any part of our bodies which managed to wander outside the protective sheath of the windshield. Most of our communication came in the form of the “thumbs up” gesture, or pointing to a particularly beautiful piece of scenery. But words are really unnecessary, as the flight is an experience that is probably enjoyed best with a minimum of conversation. With the hum of the engine, the wind blowing by, and the scenery below, the experience took on an almost dream-like quality.
It is also worth noting that B&W is dedicated to green practices – they were the first general aviation company to adopt the use of carbon offsets to create a carbon-neutral footprint. Mr. Beker’s enthusiasm for, and knowledge of, the early days of aviation enable him to create an authentic experience for those interested in the “glory days” of American aviation. “Open-cockpit flying is how our grandparents took their first flights in the time of Lindbergh. Even experienced pilots treasure it. There is no more special way to fly. It makes the kind of memory that you hear the old-timers still talking about 50 years later,” Beker said.
After a graceful landing we debarked the aircraft; my companion and I felt like little kids and wanted to go right back up again. I suspect most people will feel the same way.
Black & White Biplane, LLC, Santa Monica Airport, www.blackandwhitebiplane.com, 310.237.3393