My friend, Ray, said, “Lets flip a coin to see who flies it first.”
I agreed with him and added, “The loser flies it to St. Maries.”
Ray flipped a quarter and I called, “Heads.” It came down “Tails”, so Ray had the first flight.
We were at Weeks Field near Coeur d’Alene, Idaho discussing flying the beautiful silver EQC-6 Waco biplane that our friend Mac had recently purchased. Since he had never
been in one before, he had asked Ray and I to bring to St. Maries from Coeur d’Alene and check him out in it. Neither of us had ever been in one either but we were both flight
instructors and we figured that we could fly anything with wings if we could get it started. You know: the confidence of youth.
This plane was built in 1936 and was the latest state of the art for that time period but it didn’t have the modern features that we have today. There was no radio gear, and instead
of having toe brakes like we do now, it had what was called “Johnson Bar” brakes. Each wheel had a brake. There was a long handle between the seats that actuated which ever
brake you wanted to use. If you wanted to brake the left wheel you would push on the left pedal and pull the Johnson bar and the left brake would actuate. Push on both pedals and
pull the Johnson bar and both brakes actuate. The tail wheel was not steerable but it was full swivel. There was a “T” handle on the floor in front of the pilot which you lowered before
you started the take off run that locked the tail wheel in the straight position, helping to keep the plane straight during take off and landing. The rest of the appointments in the cabin
were pretty much standard. It was equipped with a 350 HP Wright Cyclone engine and a constant speed propeller. This gorgeous plane was a real airplane; it had a round engine,
two wings and a wheel under the tail. It held five people, the pilot and copilot seated in front and three passengers in the back seat.
What concerned us most right then was how in the world do you taxi it? It looked like you would have to have three hands to handle it. Normally when you taxi a plane you pull back
on the yoke with your left hand and operate the throttle with your right hand. However there was additionally the Johnson bar to contend with in this plane. We discussed this for a
while and decided to get in and start it up and see what happens. We gave it a walk around inspection and it looked like every thing was attached where it was supposed to be.
Since it didn’t have a starter that worked, it was necessary to hand prop it. Not a small task for an engine this size. It wasn’t as bad as it sounds though. We found out that if you
pulled it through a few cylinders with the switches off and gave it a couple shots of prime, then turned on the switches and carefully pulled it through a cylinder or two, it would start
right up. It was a real delight to hear it turning over slowly at an idle, and you could anticipate the power it would produce when throttled up.
Ray was in the pilot’s seat handling the throttle, so I climbed into the co-pilots seat and we started to try to taxi up and down the field for a while. We decided that he would handle
the yoke, throttle and pedals and I would try to use the Johnson bar when he needed brakes... to be like his third hand. It worked for a while and we did do a little taxiing, but we
decided we needed to go back to the hanger and discuss it some more or get some advise from someone at the field.
We talked to a couple of the old timers who were there at the time and one of them had flown planes with this brake setup. He told us the way to do it was to pull the yoke back
and wrap your left arm around the control wheel and then work the throttle with your left hand leaving your right hand available to work the Johnson bar when you needed brakes.
That sounded like real good advice, so back we went to try it again. It worked out very well when we did it that way and after a little more taxiing, we thought it would be a good
idea to try flying for a change.
Ray taxied down to the end of the runway and checked the mags, prop settings, carburetor heat and flight controls. Then after looking around for traffic in the air he started a take off.
He lined it up with the runway, dropped the tail wheel lock into place and started giving it full throttle. I don’t know how Ray was feeling at that time, but I was so excited it is hard to
explain. That big (to us) engine was winding up, we were accelerating rapidly up to flying speed and before we knew it we were airborne and climbing out into the traffic pattern.
We climbed straight out to about two thousand feet, then Ray throttled back some and started adjusting the propeller. The procedure is to set the prop to the speed (RPMs) you
want to run and then set the throttle for the amount of manifold pressure. Since we were new at this sort of thing, it took us a while to decide just what settings we wanted. We finally
decided on 1900 RPM and 21 inches of manifold pressure. These settings gave us a speed of about 140 MPH. We thought that was a good speed for this plane. After flying
around for a while we decided to check it out for various maneuvers. We took turns on the controls as we tried out maneuvers such as straight and level, turns to the right and left,
power on and power off stalls, climbs and glides, slow flight and simulated approaches. It was a very smooth flying airplane. We would just look at each other and smile like we
didn’t have a care in the world. Then we decided to get serious again and go back and see how it landed.
The field at Coeur d’Alene was long enough that we didn’t have to worry about getting it down. Ray entered the traffic pattern and while we were flying the base leg set the prop for
low pitch and followed the flight pattern around until we were on final approach. He slowed it down to the speed that we figured was a good glide speed. The landing was super
smooth, just like he had flown one of these all his life. After we touched down, we used about half the field to get it slow enough to turn off the runway, but when he tried to turn it
would hardly turn: we went straight for a little while until he reached down and unlocked the tail wheel. Then he was able to maneuver like he wanted. We taxied back to the hanger
and shut it down. We sat there awhile discussing the flight and deciding what to do next.
We couldn’t get over how smooth it flew and were very anxious to get more time in it. As we continued our debriefing, we came to the conclusion that we were a little hot on the glide
speed for final approach. We decided that on the next landing we would slow it down a little and by doing this we would not use up so much of the field. We were both thinking of the
field in St. Maries, which was a lot shorter.
Coeur d’Alene, Idaho is located at approximately the North end of Lake Coeur d’Alene. Week’s Field, where we were flying out of was about five or six miles north of Coeur d’Alene.
St. Maries, Idaho is about thirty-five miles slightly Southeast of Coeur d’Alene in the beautiful St. Joe river valley. The flight path between the two towns is over some very pretty
scenery. As you fly down the East side of the lake, you can see one of the sights listed in Ripley’s believe it or not. It is where the St. Joe river flows between two lakes and empties
into Lake Coeur d’Alene. The St. Joe river valley viewed from the air is like a post card scene. You see the river snaking through the center of the valley and rising above on the left
is St. Joe Baldy and Engle’s mountain. Looking right you see Lindstrom’s Peak and the St. Maries River as it flows into the St. Joe River. St. Maries is located on the South side of
the St. Joe River. The valley is too narrow to have a normal left hand flight pattern for the field there, so a left, right pattern is used, flown over the town.
This is the scene that greeted Ray and I as we approached St. Maries about twenty-five minutes after an uneventful take off from Weeks field. As determined by our coin flip, I was
at the controls. I eased the wheel slightly forward to decrease our altitude as we flew over the town and leveled off at the pattern altitude of eight hundred feet above the ground.
We circled over the town and finally flew into the landing pattern. When I banked into the down wind leg, I throttled back and set the prop into low pitch and cranked in some trim.
Then I turned onto base leg and started slowing the airspeed slightly until I could feel the plane sinking. We were then going a little slower than the approach had been at Coeur
d’Alene. As we turned onto final approach I thought it felt real good for a landing. The field looked very short from our viewpoint. I thought we were coming in just right, so I continued
holding the backpressure, waited until we were over the end of the runway, and then started a flair out. We touched down in the three-point position, main landing gear and tail wheel
touching down at the same time.
After rolling about two hundred feet the plane started pulling off to the left and although I applied right rudder it just kept on going left. Harder right rudder and a burst of power finally
got it turned, but not before we had run over one of the landing lights that stood about a foot and a half above the ground.
Well, I finally got the darn thing straightened out and taxied back around to the runway and made my way back to the parking area by the hanger. After I quit shaking and got settled
down, we talked it over and decided that I had not locked the tail wheel before the takeoff from Weeks field and that I was not centered on the runway when I touched down here.
Together these things caused the plane to veer to the left and ending in a very exciting landing.
When we inspected the damage caused by running over the landing light we found out that there was a large rip in the fabric on the bottom of the fuselage. Since that was the only
damage we could find, we counted our blessings and started thinking about how to fix it. I had a good supply of model airplane equipment including clear and silver dope, however
I didn’t have any piece of fabric large enough to cover the rip. After a little thinking I decided that what we needed was one of my mother’s pillowcases. I drove home and while she
wasn’t looking I got a pillowcase that looked like the fabric was good enough for a patch. Back at the airport we cut it up and after sewing the rip back together, doped the cloth
from the pillowcase onto the fuselage. After it dried it looked almost as good as new. When it was finished you couldn’t see the repair unless you looked on the bottom of the
fuselage closely. We hardly ever looked at the repair after that. We had greater things to accomplish, which were to get proficient with the Waco and check Mac out. Later, I went
home and confessed to my mom what I had done. I guess I figured it was easier to repent than to get permission. She forgave me because she was my MOM.
Ray and I continued to fly off the St. Maries field and after a few more flights figured we were in good enough shape to check Mac out. When we approached him it turned out that
he had lost interest in flying it and wondered if we would like to buy it from him. That was quite a switch and a surprise to us. He told us he wanted sixteen hundred dollars for it.
We figured that was a very good price, all things considered. The only catch was that we didn't have sixteen hundred dollars to spare. He said not to worry. He would sell it to us
on time. That is, we would each sign a promissory note for eight hundred dollars with no limit on the time it took to pay it back. It was like he was just giving it to us. With that problem
out of the way, we decided to get to work and really learn more about maintaining and flying our new bird. We pulled to cowl off and checked out all the valve
settings and anything else we thought was necessary. We even flew it some with the cowl off.
Taking off was a thrill. With that big engine and a constant speed prop all you had to do was lock the tail wheel into place, give it full power, and as soon as the tail came up a little,
just haul back on the yoke and you were airborne and climbing out into the blue. It only took about one third of the field, but landing was a little different. But it seemed to me that it
took too much of the runway to land and that it ought to be slowed down more on final to get a good three point landing without using up most of the field.
We kept experimenting with landings by slowing it down more and more. There was so much lift in those two wings that it felt like it would never break in a stall. During a stall you
could keep putting more and more back pressure and always just before it would stall, that is before it quit flying and dropped the nose, it would really shake and warn you what was
going to happen. This was real “seat of the pants flying”: you didn’t have to look at the airspeed indicator to see how fast it was going necause you could feel it when it was about to
As we continued gaining flying experience we developed a different procedure for landing. Instead of making our approach with a normal glide, as we started final approach we
would slow it down until just above a stall but before it would start shaking. At this point it would be almost in the three-point position and the yoke would be almost all the way back.
You could really feel the rapid decent. Then as you would start the flare out for a three-point landing you would slowly bring the yoke back and give it a little throttle. The burst of
throttle would be just enough the stop the drop and, with the yoke all the way back, you would descend the final foot of so for a smooth landing and the speed would be slow enough
to be able to turn off the runway about half way down the field and taxi into the hanger. This procedure was a little bit different from a normal landing because it was a little slower
and a lot more exciting. And it got a lot more exciting still if you didn’t give it that burst of power at the right time!
About a year after we took possession of this wonderful plane Mac and his friend Ted changed their minds about letting us have the plane on such generous terms. They said they
would like to do a complete overhaul on it, and that if we wanted to keep it they wanted us to pay for it. The job would include recovering with new fabric and changing the brake set
up and other ways of modernizing it. To do the job like they wanted to would take several yearsdoing it in their spare time. Since we had never paid any money on it yet and still
didn’t have sixteen dollars to spare, we didn’t have any choice but to let them have the plane back. They wanted to know if we would still check them out when it was finished. We
agreed, but that is another story.
I checked my logbook before starting to write about this adventure and found that I had never logged any of the time flown, and I don’t remember the registration number. As near
as I can remember it was sometime in 1952 or 1953. I will always remember the wonderful experiences we had with this plane while it was in our possession.