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Jeff's Waco

Did you know that the majority of EAA Young Eagles flights are made using a vintage airplane? Over the nearly two decades of Young Eagles flying, a check of the types of airplanes used for Young Eagles flights shows that most of the flights have been made using aircraft built prior to 1970, with many of them taking place in the great two- and four-place airplanes built just after World War II.

With the news that Harrison Ford has handed the stick of chairmanship over to Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger and First Officer Jeffrey Skiles, it seems likely that even more Young Eagles will experience the thrill of a first flight in a vintage aircraft. Jeff Skiles has recently reconnected with his enjoyment of aviation as framed in the windshield of an antique airplane. Last month, with the help of a longtime friend with whom he recently reconnected, Skiles purchased a Waco YOC cabin biplane, which he plans to use as he and Sullenberger share their love of flight with youngsters.

We recently interviewed Jeff Skiles via e-mail and asked him about his general aviation renaissance. Here’s our exchange:

VAO: When did you first get started with vintage airplanes?
Jeff Skiles: I owned a 1947 Cessna 140 from 1991 to 1999. I guess that would be the start.

VAO: What did you fly when you were around older airplanes in your formative years in aviation?
JS: I can’t say I really flew any older planes in my formative years. They weren’t old then; they are now. I mostly flew Cessna aircraft in general aviation. I flew cargo in older Aero Commanders and Convair 340/440s. I guess that would be 1950s technology.

VAO: Do you have a family history in aviation?
JS: My parents were both pilots. Not professionally, just recreational. They owned a Tri-Pacer and later upgraded to a Cessna 182. I never flew their airplanes, though.

VAO: You’ve just bought a cabin Waco—what drew you to it?
JS: My old roommate and friend from the Aero Commander/Convair days, Larry Harmacinski. He had a WACO open cockpit for 17 years or so. He sold it and just recently bought a cabin Waco UEC.

VAO: Tell us about reconnecting with Larry Harmacinski and the vintage aircraft crowd. How long had it been since you flew an older non-commercial airplane?
JS: While Larry and I actually work at the same airline, we had always been in different bases and never crossed paths. We kind of fell out of touch. Reconnecting with him at Oshkosh this year coincided with my personal general aviation renaissance brought about by EAA AirVenture Oshkosh. When I owned the Cessna 140, I didn’t fly it much because there really wasn’t any social element for me. The Waco came complete with a large extended family of Waco owners, two Waco owners clubs with their own fly-ins, and of course the even larger vintage airplane crowd. I am extremely excited about flying to the various vintage airplane events in the area next year. The last non-commercial airplane I flew was in 1999 when I delivered the Cessna 140 to its new owner.

VAO: What resources did you draw upon to help you with your decision to buy an antique?
JS: I didn’t need resources. I had Larry. He located the Waco, researched it, talked to the people who had restored it, told me I was a fool not to by it. I’m still not sure about the last part. My wife hasn’t seen the initial fuel bills yet. I have to refer to it as “our” Waco around Larry or he sulks.

VAO: Describe what it was like to get back into a tailwheel airplane—what didn’t surprise you?
JS: I had never flown such a large single-engine airplane of any kind much less a taildragger. I’d say everything was new to me.

VAO: What did surprise you during your checkout?
JS: It is very squirrelly on the ground. The slab [Aircraft] sides completely blank out the rudder when the tail wheel is on the ground. It’s completely a differential braking airplane on the ground.
VAO: What are you hoping to do with the Waco now that you’re back in the tailwheel saddle again?
JS: I originally bought it thinking that as the co-chairman of the Young Eagles program, I should have an airplane to fly Young Eagles in. Obviously I’m looking forward to that, but I’m also looking forward to flying it to the Waco Fly-Ins, Blakesburg, and I’ve already bid my vacation for Airventure Oshkosh 2010. Come and see me in antique parking!

Here is a slideshow of Jeff’s new Waco, with images by Nigel Hitchman, Ilse and Larry Harmacinski, and Alden Frautschy.

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