Parked in a meticulous, seemingly-measured row, and angled away from the wooden fence on the rolling grass field of Bealeton’s Flying Circus Aerodrome, the N2S-1 and –3 Stearman, Fleet, and Waco biplanes, all accommodating single pilots and either one or two passengers, had been poised for imminent flight, deluding me into believing that I had somehow stumbled into a barnstorming era scene frozen in time. Fully slipping through its cracks, I would take to the sky in one of these 1930s-,open-cockpit, single-engine, fabric-covered biplanes on this clear, blazingly hot August afternoon in central Virginia.
The Waco aircraft scheduled to return me to history, a dark blue-fuselaged, bright yellow-winged biplane registered N229F, had sported the Army emblem on its upper wing and the designation “US Army Air Corps, Maxwell, Alabama” on its vertical tail.
Access, along the left wing root, led to the forward, two-place, padded bench seat cockpit immediately behind the small, Plexiglas windshield and featured basic instrumentation, inclusive of an altimeter, a compass, a turn-and-bank indicator, an engine gauge in revolutions-per-minute, an airspeed indicator, a rate-of-climb indicator, a temperature gauge, and the rudder pedals. The pilot sat in the single-place cockpit behind me.
After fuel injection into the exposed-cylinder engine, which turned a single, wooden propeller, the biplane, bathed in slipstream, released its brake and followed an identical blue-and-yellow Waco type across the rolling grass over what had sometimes been used as the short, diagonal, cross runway, and then turned toward the east.
Making the 180-degree left turn after the lead aircraft had become airborne, biplane N229F unleashed itself over the grass with a full, 1,900-rpm throttle application and, after lifting its tail wheel off of the now blurred carpet of green, surrendered its two, fabric-covered wings into the sky at 70 mph.
Banking right to a 030-degree heading at 300 feet, the aircraft settled into a 200 foot-per-minute climb in the hot, flawlessly-blue August sky over central Virginia’s rolling green canvas, a view which would have been equally seen by any 1930 barnstorming flight. The expanse had formed the basis of as many “runways” as its pilot had fancied to land on in order to find passengers seeking rides.
Banking left to 210 degrees, a compass heading which had been almost double the brutal, 120-degree air temperature, the aircraft settled into its 600-foot aerial plateau. Dark green borders of trees had framed light-green, velvet-appearing fields, like modern, geometric art patterns. Silver hay silos triumphantly rose from them.
Well cocooned in the forward cockpit, yet still bombarded by the propeller-generated wind, I had been aerially suspended. Removed from earth and surrounded by a 1930 aircraft design, I had somehow felt as if I had eclipsed all ground-based time references, the equivalent of a temporary soul release to a former era.
Mimicking the earlier-departing Waco biplane, aircraft N229F commenced a series of figure-eights over rectangles of dry, almost-golden fields, their plow marks appearing like textural brushstrokes.
The soft green ridges of Shenandoah National Park, like waves, crested in the distance well ahead of the blurred propeller.
Buzzing the Flying Circus Aerodrome’s grass field at 200 feet, the biplane aileron-leveraged itself into a climbing right bank through the compass’s 360 degrees in order to position itself for a power-reduced sideslip over the ever-enlarging trees toward the field, gently settling on to the grass with its two main wheels and executing a brief deceleration roll.
Taxiing toward the “Biplane Rides” tent behind the wooden fence with its throttle in the idle position, it swung round to the right with a brief burst of power and a full rudder deflection.
Removing my noise-absorbing headset and climbing out of the cockpit, I followed the wing root, stepping back on to the ground and simultaneously back through the tare of time to 2008.