A Short History of Biplanes
A biplane is defined simply as a fixed wing aircraft with two main wings stacked one above the other. The configuration of the biplane was derived from the box kite, an invention of the Australian explorer, inventor, engineer, and aeronautical pioneer, Laurence Hargrave.
By the mid-1890s there had been enough success with manned biplane gliders in the United States and Europe for Octave Chanute, “father of aviation and the heavier-than-air flying machine,” to conclude that the externally braced biplane provided the best prospects for manned powered flight. The first manned, powered flight, of course, occurred right here in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina on the Wright Flyer biplane in 1903.
During the pioneer years of aviation biplanes were much more popular than monoplanes. With the low engine powers and air speeds available, the wings of a monoplane needed to be large in order to create enough lift while a biplane could have two smaller wings and so be made smaller and lighter. Just prior to World War I the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) implemented a “monoplane ban” and grounded all monoplanes after several structural failures occurred. By the end of the war, however, biplanes were reaching their limits of performance. Between World War I and World War II technological advances allowed a shift primarily to monoplane development.
The Experience of Flying a Biplane
When you fly in an open cockpit biplane you feel like you are experiencing a part of aviation history. The premier issue of Air & Space/Smithsonian magazine featured a biplane for that specific reason. In May 2011, the editors of Air & Space/Smithsonian magazine justified putting an image of a biplane on their first issue:
“One reason is history. Dozens of biplane types stand out in the history of aviation—as military trainers for both world wars, corporate aircraft, barnstormers, transports, crop dusters, and show planes. Most of the biplane owners we’ve hopped rides with say they regard themselves as caretakers, preserving a bit of aviation heritage until the next owner can take over the job. In recent years, more and more airplane fans have been spending their money and time restoring vintage aircraft—biplanes among them—and reaping more financial reward for doing it. ‘There are more Classic restorations being completed, many for the second or third time on a particular airplane,’ says H.G. Frautschy, executive director of the Experimental Aircraft Association’s vintage group, referring to the EAA category of airplanes built before 1955. ‘I’m also seeing a trend that as their value increases, fewer aircraft are being discarded, and are being restored. The increase is not dramatic, but it’s heartening to see the numbers hold steady or climb’
“Biplanes are not only still being restored, they’re also still being manufactured. Since 1991, WACO Classic Aircraft Corporation of Battle Creek, Michigan, has been producing Waco YMF models under the original type certificate and has sold more than 125. The company recently announced that this year it will begin to manufacture the biplane that was on our cover 25 years ago, the Great Lakes. Even these newly manufactured biplanes teach their pilots and passengers something about flight in its youth. But anyone who has ever had the good fortune to look over the side from an open cockpit at the country gliding by below knows that history can’t fully explain why biplanes are treasured. And utility doesn’t explain it either. Though a biplane can get you from here to there, that seems to be just an excuse to fly it. The biplane’s real purpose is to entertain.”
OBX Airplanes is proud to own a beautiful red Waco biplane, and we think that flying in our open-cockpit biplane is the most exciting thing you can do on the Outer Banks! Call us today to book your biplane ride!
As a Certified Flight Instructor on the Outer Banks of North Carolina I am pleased to say that when you fly with me you will be sure to have fun, be safe and learn to fly!