Seen against the grass of Hullavington Airfield, Wiltshire, with a line of Auster aircraft from the 1940s and 50s behind it, you could be forgiven if you thought that G-WOCO was one of the classic biplanes produced by the WACO Aircraft Company (originally started by George Weaver) in the 1930s. In fact, there were only 18 of the original WACO YMF biplanes built – with one going to the Halliburton Oil Well Cementing Co (HOWCO) in 1934 – so the chances of coming across an example at a UK flying event would be rather slim. No, this is one of the 100-plus new-built WACO YMF-5C and -5D produced since 1986 by the WACO Classic Aircraft Corporation of Battle Creek, Michigan.
The original WACO company was famed for their sporting biplanes and sesquiplanes, offering a range of both touring and training machines. The YMF-5C, sometimes known as the ‘entry level Barnstormer Edition’, is powered by a Jacobs Aircraft & Engines R-755B2M radial engine of 275 hp, driving a wooden, 2-blade, fixed pitch Sensenich propeller. The Jacobs is a classic design in itself, and is now very reliable, with a time-between-overhaul of 1,400 hours. This particular example was originally on the United States Civil Register as N770MM, but was imported to the UK by the Airpark Flight Centre Ltd., Coventry Airport in January, 2005. It was re-assembled in March of that year and a brand new British Certificate of Airworthiness granted.
The 1930s biplane design has been considerable upgraded. The fabric covering is now Dacron, and the area over each rib is taped and stitched to prevent chaffing. Polyurethane paint is applied in a classic 2-colour WACO scheme. You can have a modern Hamilton Standard 2B20 composite propeller, (with a nice polished metal spinner), but it will cost you more than $21,000 extra.
The really huge difference comes when you look in the cockpit. As well as some traditional analogue instruments, you now have masses of ‘glass screens’! Yes, you can specify a full Instrument Flight Rules set of communications and navigation gear, beyond the wildest dreams of the average biplane pilot. You can also specify a leather interior, map cases and much more for both front and rear cockpits. It seems likely that, as the WACO heads out to the end of the runway, the approaching bad weather which you can see off to the south of Hullavington will not affect G-WOCO’s flight home too much.
One major change from the way the modernized version of the YMF is treated, when compared to the original, is that the Federal Aviation Authority certifies the aircraft type for commercial operation. This means that a pilot can fly two passengers on ‘commercial rides’ and companies such as ‘Biplane Rides Over Atlanta Inc.’ did just that with their bright yellow YMF-5C, N7020L. A new owner can also specify a banner-towing kit to be fitted to the ‘plane during the build process, if desired. I am sure that Classic Aviation Ltd of Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire, the current owners of G-WOCO, will have many more years of successful operations with her.
As an aside, it was an unusual fact that during their whole life from 1919 to 1946, the various companies (including the several name changes) which built WACO aircraft, never built a single POWERED monoplane. I emphasised the ‘powered’ statement, because they were responsible for the design and manufacturing supervision of no less than 16 companies which produced the ubiquitous WACO CG-4 glider (‘Hadrian’ in British service). Nearly 14,000 examples of this troop and freight-carrying glider were built, and it could be said to have been a major factor in winning the war.
I think that the new-build WACO YMF-5C and -5D are an excellent way of making the ownership and operation of a classic 1930s design perfectly practical.