By Estella R. Fullmer
For Hometown News
NEW SMYRNA BEACH -- RJ Jordan enjoyed the ride of his life in a World War II bi-plane as a gift from his father, Robert Jordan, for his 13th birthday.
A new business in town, BiPlane FunFlights, offers thrilling open cockpit adventures in WWII bi-planes. BiPlane FunFlights has only been operating in the area for the last year. "Business is picking up as the word about us is getting out," said owner Mike Smyser. His wife Eileen Smyser, who is also a pilot, agreed.
At 2096 Aero Circle at the New Smyrna Beach airport, BiPlane FunFlights offers several different tours from the airport down the Intracoastal Waterway to Mosquito Lagoon and back, up around Ponce Inlet and the lighthouse in a Waco UPF-7 bi-plane that was used as a Primary Trainer in the U.S. Army Air Corps during WWII. Air tour passengers ride in an open cockpit right behind a 220HP Continental radial engine in the 1941 Waco UPF-7 that has a six-foot Hamilton Standard metal propeller. They are provided with goggles and helmets equipped with intercom so they can hear tower communications and speak to the pilot. Passengers get a great view of the city, waterways, coastal beaches and Ponce Lighthouse on every tour.
The cost of the various tours range from $150 up to $500 for 2 passengers, from 10 minutes to more than an hour ride. "We have tours that go down the ICW to Eldora or even as far as a Shuttle Approach to the Cape Kennedy Spaceport," Mr. Smyser said. "We operate under a FAA letter of authorization and our pilots have logged thousands of hours of flight time."
The planes are meticulously maintained and inspected before and after every flight. They all are painted in authentic WWII colors and markings just as they were when used by the U.S. Army Air Corps during their heyday. "People can find more information at our website, www.biplanefunflights.com or book flights at the AirGate Ramp on the east side of the NSB Airport just north of the big propeller as you enter the airport," Mr. Smyser suggested.
He describes his business as a combination of "educational and entertainment aviation adventures experienced in authentic World War II aircraft." The Waco UPF-7's engine makes a distinctive sound. "There's no sound more pleasant than that of a round engine," said Mr. Smyser as he smiles at his Texan AT-6G Advanced Trainer, one of his other planes that he uses to train pilots. "This is the hidden part of my business," he said, "We also offer flight training on these WWII 'stick and rudder' planes."
The Texan AT-6G has a greenhouse canopy and a 600 HP Pratt & Whitney nine-cylinder radial engine. It was one of the last trainer planes pilots flew before they graduated to fighter planes, according to Mr. Smyser. "It was used to prepare pilots for fighter combat or bomber training." It cruises at 150 mph and can climb over 1,000 feet per minute.
He has two other planes for instruction. Most Biplane instruction flights are in a 1941 Boeing Stearman PT-17 built in Wichita, Kan., for the U.S. Army Air Corps and some are in his other instructional plane, a Piper J-3 Cub. "All of these planes have great maneuverability," Mr. Smyser said. The PT-17 was designed as a Primary Trainer to teach students basic airwork, including aerobatics and take-offs and landings. WWII pilots earned their 'wings' in this aircraft. Like the Waco, it also has a round 220 HP radial engine.
Cadets who pre-qualified for flight training at civilian airports used the Piper J-3 Cub. Students who prefer flight in this trainer will experience engine starts by hand propping, taxiing the aircraft and the same maneuvers done in the larger trainer aircraft.
"Flying this aircraft is more challenging than the larger aircraft because it is lighter in weight and controls are more sensitive," Mr. Smyser said.
It has a closed cockpit and excellent 300-degree visibility of the horizon. "The J-3 aircraft is the best trainer ever built and is ideal for teaching the basics of stick and rudder flying," said Mr. Smyser, who likes to start students on the Cub and move them up to the PT-17 and then to the AT-6G, which is the easiest to fly.
"I bought the AT-6 in Europe and had it flown back to the US over the Greenland ice cap route," Mr. Smyser said.
The plane had been used by the Spanish air force for 16 years until it was released to an aircraft club in Luxembourg, he said. "It was restored to U.S. Navy colors in 1995."
Instructional flights are conducted by FAA Certified Flight Instructors and all flights qualify for pilot logbook entries. Mr. Smyser conducts some of the training flights himself. Flight venues range from 20 minutes to an hour and involve a training regimen used by the USAAC for basic flight maneuvers. Instructors do all the take-off and landings. He emphasized, "These are real instruction flights, not sight-seeing rides ... although the flights over-fly scenic areas south of NSB airport."
Sightseers will be able to see BiPlane FunFlights at the upcoming New Smyrna Beach Balloon & Sky Fest April 5-7 and will be providing air tours and instructional flights during the festival. "We take the planes to air shows around the country" Mr. Smyser said. "Many like to see these old 'war birds' flying." He emphasized they give "thrilling open cockpit rides, not thrill-rides" in describing the air tours.
Mr. Smyser and his wife, both former university professors of physics and mathematics respectively, operated the business in Ohio, but decided to move to NSB when the airport invited them. Mr. Smyser said it has been a good opportunity and expects their business to grow.