So You Wanna Fly a Warbird

Your Guide to the Warbird Ex­pe­ri­ence

Flight Journal - - CONTENTS - By Budd Davis­son

Is there an avi­a­tion en­thu­si­ast alive who hasn’t wished that he or she could taste what it was ac­tu­ally like to be at the con­trols of a World War II fighter or man­ning the gun po­si­tions in a bomber—prefer­ably, with­out be­ing shot at? No, that in­di­vid­ual doesn’t ex­ist. The vis­ceral at­trac­tion of the warbird is uni­ver­sal, and at one time, that was quite frus­trat­ing. One has to go back only a cou­ple of decades to find a time when it was next to im­pos­si­ble to even get a ride in some­thing like a Mus­tang, much less re­ceive flight in­struc­tion. Plus, there were so few B-17s and other bombers fly­ing that dream­ing of hitch­ing a ride in one wasn’t even worth wast­ing the men­tal en­ergy on. That, how­ever, has changed—big time!

To­day there are nu­mer­ous op­er­a­tors—some work­ing out of fixed fa­cil­i­ties and others lit­er­ally barn­storm­ing around the coun­try, giv­ing rides or in­struc­tion in a wide va­ri­ety of war­birds.

This is the re­sult of an in­ter­est­ing in­ter­sec­tion be­tween warbird op­er­a­tors and the reg­u­la­tory agen­cies, specif­i­cally the Fed­eral Avi­a­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion (FAA).

The Reg­u­la­tions Rule

Very few com­bat war­birds were ever li­censed in FAA’s trans­port or nor­mal cat­e­gory, which is nec­es­sary for an owner/op­er­a­tor to carry pas­sen­gers for hire. When in civil­ian hands, most ex-mil­i­tary birds fly in lim­ited, re­stricted, or ex­per­i­men­tal-air­show/ex­hi­bi­tion cat­e­gories, in which the car­riage of pay­ing pas­sen­gers is strictly for­bid­den. In 1996, sev­eral not-for-profit or­ga­ni­za­tions (e.g., the Collings Foun­da­tion and the Ex­per­i­men­tal Air­craft As­so­ci­a­tion [EAA]) pe­ti­tioned the FAA to al­low them to carry pas­sen­gers in non­stan­dard cat­e­gory war­birds, cit­ing the his­tor­i­cal na­ture of the air­craft and the im­por­tance of be­ing able to ex­pose the pub­lic to the aerial ar­ti­facts while, at the same time, gen­er­at­ing cash flow to help main­tain those air­craft. The reg­u­la­tions that the meet­ings gen­er­ated now come un­der the head­ing of Liv­ing His­tory Flight Ex­pe­ri­ence (LHFE) op­er­a­tions, and the or­ga­ni­za­tions now us­ing those reg­u­la­tions to ex­pose the pub­lic to their his­tor­i­cal air­craft are do­ing so only at the will of the FAA. That is an­other way of say­ing that there is no guar­an­tee how far these or­ga­ni­za­tions will be able to op­er­ate in the fu­ture sim­ply be­cause of the change­able na­ture of gov­ern­men­tal reg­u­la­tions. So if you’ve been want­ing that warbird ex­pe­ri­ence, do it sooner rather than later.

The Warbird Ex­pe­ri­ence Com­mu­nity

The warbird ex­pe­ri­ence com­mu­nity is pop­u­lated by sev­eral types of or­ga­ni­za­tions of­fer­ing ex­pe­ri­ences in many dif­fer­ent types of war­birds— train­ers to fight­ers—in many dif­fer­ent op­er­a­tional set­tings. Some are work­ing out of a fixed lo­ca­tion, of­ten mu­se­ums, while others con­stantly tour the en­tire United States. Others set up at avi­a­tion events, air­shows, and fly-ins.

Some en­ti­ties are purely com­mer­cial and are rec­og­nized as such by the FAA, while many others, like the EAA, the Collings Foun­da­tion, and the mu­se­ums, are 501(c)(3) non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tions, which uti­lize the funds gen­er­ated to keep their air­craft fly­ing while, at the same time, giv­ing the avi­a­tion com­mu­nity the chance to live out some of their fan­tasies. Also, since they are op­er­at­ing as non­prof­its, a por­tion of the cost of a ride is (the­o­ret­i­cally) a taxd­e­ductible do­na­tion.

It should be noted that some of the op­er­a­tions are strictly lim­ited to giv­ing rides, while others, like Stal­lion 51 and Warbird Ad­ven­tures, give flight in­struc­tion in their air­planes. Inas­much as un­der FAA def­i­ni­tions, a stu­dent re­ceiv­ing flight in­struc­tion is not a pas­sen­ger for hire, these or­ga­ni­za­tions have got­ten per­mis­sion to op­er­ate their air­craft in the flight in­struc­tion role. Whether you’re a pi­lot or not, you’ll ac­tu­ally fly their air­planes un­der the guid­ance of their ex­pe­ri­enced in­struc­tors.

What fol­lows is a gen­eral guide to some of the ma­jor op­er­a­tions and a list of some of the smaller ones. A com­plete guide to warbird ex­pe­ri­ences world­wide is also in­cluded. Be sure to look at the guide closely be­cause you’ll see quite a range of war­birds avail­able from Stear­mans to Hell­divers.

A rider’s view from the bom­bardier po­si­tion in a B-17. (Photo cour­tesy of the Collings Foun­da­tion)

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