Saturday, May 17, 2014



Sedona Arizona (SEZ) is one of the most beautiful cities in the US. It is a tourist destination located 70 miles north of Phoenix and 70 miles south of the Grand Canyon. Sedona is truly an eclectic city surrounded by red rock formations on 3 sides. The people are laid back, spiritual  and extremely courteous. Sedona is also home to the famous Pink Jeep tours, which in itself is an amazing excursion.

SEZ sits on a 500 foot mesa. It is like landing on an aircraft carrier that is not moving. When flying into SEZ the calm wind runway is 3 landing uphill and departing 21 downhill. One has to be careful landing at SEZ, if windy there is a lot of sink at the beginning of the runway. It is best not to land on the numbers but stay a little high on approach. The elevation is 4800 feet but you have to be aware of density altitude as Sedona is a high desert, and it gets hot during the day but cools off at night.

The facilities at SEZ are way above normal for a small city. SEZ has a beautiful terminal building, a restaurant that has glass walls that allow you to look at the red rock formations and planes arriving and departing and just north of the restaurant is Red Rock Aviation/Sedona Air tours.

Red Rock is an fantastic entity. They offer Grand Canyon tours in light twins and jet helicopters. There are multiple tours available including a dinner tour and wine tour. In addition Red Rock offers open cockpit tours of Sedona in their 2 WACO biplanes. Each WACO’s flies about 8 to 12 missions a day. In the summer when it is hotter, only one WACO runs Monday through Friday as the other pilot flies for the forrest service. During Red Rock’s main season, 2 WACO’s fly 7 days a week.

When I arrived on May 16 to fly the WACO, Red Rock’s office was full of tourist to fly to the Grand Canyon and for the WACO ride. I arrived on Friday at 8:30AM and met my pilot at 9AM. Scott Sibson lives not far from Sedona in Prescott, AZ. He drives from Prescott to Cottonwood (P52) where the main operation is housed, and then flies the WACO on a short trip to SEZ. When Scott and I sat down to talk, we knew a lot of the same people in aviation, as I lived in Prescott hearing juvenile criminal cases for 4 years and was chairman of the aviation commission. Scott became an A&P flying for the forest service. He learned how to fly tailwheel in Prescott (PRC) having started by helping to rebuild a Piper Cub and was very handy at recovering a cloth airplane. I do not know which I enjoyed more talking to Scott or flying the WACO.

                                                              Scott Sibson...pilot 

I have been fortunate enough to fly gliders, fixed wing, helicopter, seaplane (see my blog on flying the Grumman Widgeon) and jets (see blog on transitioning from pistons to jets) . Until yesterday, I had never flown in an open cockpit biplane. I have flown with a lot of pilots over the years, and found that the best pilots I have flown with are airline pilots that also own their own GA airplane. I now have to add Scott to that list. He is a consummate professional. I have not enjoyed flying with someone more than with Scott in a long time.

The WACO we flew is a 1997 YMF 5-C Super. This WACO has more hours on it than any other WACO in the county clocking in at over 7500 hours. I was giving a pre-briefing by Scott which included entry into the front seat and how to operate the door which only opens and closes from the outside. Scott entered my seat to show me the best way to enter the cockpit. The front seat holds 1 or 2 people. After entering I was sitting low in a hole. My instrument in the front only included an airspeed indicator. Along with that I had stick, rudders, brakes, trim and throttle. My seat was under the wing and Scott’s was in the open behind the wing. He wore a baseball cap to keep the sun off of him. I had no forward vision and Scott does not either sitting in the back seat.

I donned my leather helmet, after entering the cockpit, that was attached to an over the ear headset. Scott primed the Jacobs 275 radial about 7 times and hit the starter. The radial came to life, and we taxied out doing S turns all the way to the active runway as there is no forward visibility in the WACO. SEZ is a Unicom field. Having finished our pre-flight runup we checked on the radio that no one was in the traffic pattern and took the active. After being perfectly straight down the runway Scott locked the tailwheel, and we were ready to go. Upon reaching 60mph the tailwheel came up, and we lifted off at 80mph. It was smooth as silk. Top speed is about 110mph, and we cruised at 100mph. There was no wind in the cockpit as the windshield does a great job of blocking the wind. I had on jeans and a light jacket and could have flown in my shorts and a polo shirt. In flight I pulled the headset away from my ears, and the noise was very loud. With the headsets on it was quiet as flying my Bonanza. Upon departing the runway we climbed to 7500 feet. This altitude kept us above the helicopter tours. We were only going to fly for about 15 minutes but were having so much fun we stayed up longer. Scott asked me if it was okay to do a wingover, and I said go for it. With one wing down about 90 degrees we turned on a pin head. Then we did one to the other side. After that I did some dutch rolls realizing how much rudder push is need to fly this big bird. All the time flying I had to look out 45 degrees to see where we going. The only time I could see directly over the cowl was on descent. There was a King Air on final so we crossed over the runway and then landed. Airspeed in the WACO is very important on landing. There is so much drag that airspeed had to be at 80mph to keep us flying. Pilots are always judged on their landings, and Scott outdid himself. We landed on the mains and kept the tail up until we ran out of airspeed. When stopped Scott unlocked the tailwheel to taxi back into Red Rock ramp. He let the engine run for about 2 minutes to prevent the engine from hydro locking. This is where excess oil drains down to the bottom 2 cylinders.

After the flight was over we could not talk long as there was a couple ready to go and take their WACO ride. 

I rate Red Rock/Sedona Air tours operation as a 10 out of 10 and enjoyed meeting John, James and others that work at the operation. Hats and t-shirts are available for sale in the Red Rock building. My thanks go out to Larry Bruner, owner of Red Rock, for for a wonderful day.