Is it a thrill (or a fright) to fly in bizarre aircraft? From the Waco UPF-7 to the Waco UPF-7 and the Goodyear Blimp, Boom team members have been airborne in amazing and unusual aircraft. Many of these aircraft push the boundaries of engineering, challenging a pilot’s skills and delivering white-knuckle moments. Others offer a more serene flight experience combined with epic views and once-in-a-lifetime moments.
We’re rolling this article series out of the hangar with a snapshot of the bizarre aircraft we’ve flown in — and what we’re dreaming of flying next.
Marshall Gusman, Aerodynamicist
Most Bizarre Aircraft: The Chicken Whisperers Flugtag Glider at the Red Bull Flugtag
What is it? Flugtag is “flying day” or “flight day” in German. The Red Bull Flugtag is an annual competition of homemade aircraft that use no stored energy, pulleys or ropes.
The Experience: A small team of engineers at my previous job decided we had a good chance at beating the world record for the Red Bull Flugtag event. Our team was The Chicken Whisperers. We designed, built and test flew this amazingly shiny glider in our free time. The glider was cumbersome and delicate on the ground, but was very stable in flight. We flew very smoothly and had a great glide ratio. It was piloted much like the hang gliders of the very first experimentalists; by hanging from your armpits with very limited weight shift control, except we had the advantage of two semi-functional rudders on the winglets.
We headed to Long Beach, California, where we danced in chicken suits before a crowd of 100,000, then pushed our star pilot off the pier to break the world distance record. It was extremely rewarding to fly an aircraft that was completely a product of our own making.
Dreaming of flying: An open-canopy WWI-era plane, to feel the wind in my hair.
John Cameron, Senior IT Systems Engineer
Most Bizarre Aircraft: Waco UPF-7
What is it? A classic open cockpit biplane (two wings) built between 1937 and 1942.
The Experience: Acrobatics! Amazing! It was off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard and the first time I got to do acrobatics in an aircraft.
Dreaming of flying: Powered paraglider or a supersonic aircraft. The freedom of a paraglider seems amazing, and so does supersonic speed.
Chris “Duff” Guarente, XB-1 Lead Test Pilot
Most Bizarre Aircraft: Goodyear Blimp
What is it? A non-rigid airship (Goodyear began to replace its non-rigid airship fleet with semi-rigid airships in 2014).
The Experience: We were given the opportunity to fly the Blimp during US Air Force Test Pilot School. It was completely different than any other aircraft I had flown before. The controls were more like boat controls, with a huge wheel to pitch the front of the blimp up and down next to the captain’s seat. We took off and climbed at 45 degree nose up at 10 mph, which was the strangest thing, since any normal fixed wing airplane would have been stalled and unable to fly like that. We then dove at 35 degrees nose down over the shoreline near Long Beach and didn’t accelerate downhill. Everything is just strange when an aircraft is buoyant.
Dreaming of flying: de Haviland Mosquito. It was a twin boom, two-engine aircraft designed by the British in World War II. It was a light bomber, but was able to become a reconnaissance aircraft. It was so fast that fighters could not keep up with it, so it needed very little protection. Several of them have recently been refurbished and are flying again.