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Atlanta in 1950 vs 2015

When I first saw the airplane the word relic came to mind. My family had purchased me a flight around Atlanta. I had flown a tri-pacer years ago. They decided I might like to go up one more time in my waning years.        

I didn’t recognize the biplane parked on the strip when my sons and I walked out of the 47th Fighter Wing restaurant at Peachtree DeKalb airport. I was told it was 86 years old which worried me at first, but then I realized, since I am 3 years older than the airplane…antiquated has got to be okay.    

The plane was kind of ugly with a monster radial engine, two open seats; the forward seating could accommodate four people with the pilot sitting in the back cockpit. I was told in advance that I would be seated with someone. I asked for a twenty-one year old Powers model. 

When I arrived in Atlanta I was going to be the manager of the fur departments in the Davison Paxon stores with my office in the store on Peachtree Street. I had driven through the city before when heading to a vacation in Florida. We drove through Atlanta on Highway 41. The downtown connector was a necessity.

Descending over North Fulton County the scenario below was rolling verdant hills with grazing cattle. The sprawl that would eventually become Atlanta had only begun. The road between Roswell and Sandy Springs was two-lane. Holcomb Bridge was a meandering country road with no businesses at most intersections. 

Honing in on approach to Peachtree DeKalb airport I could see the Frito Lay plant off to starboard. Highway #285 was muck and machinery on the east side of Atlanta. There was no Spaghetti Junction. Peachtree Industrial was a two-lane road leading up through farmlands bordering the Chattahoochee River valley.

The biplane is an antique, a New Standard model D-25 built in New Jersey. Seven are still flying. Take-off speed is 40 MPH, depending on the load. It cruises at 80 MPH. When the pilot cranked the engine the prop-wash was like a Lockheed wind-tunnel. I was wearing a helmet with goggles when he fired it up for take-off or my eyeballs would have ended up in the back of my skull.  On a busy day the airplane will make 12 flights with 48 passengers aboard.

Flying over traffic, backed-up for miles below, I felt like an eagle soaring over road rage. You must see Atlanta from 1300 feet. You cannot conceive the immensity of the city today; people stacked on top of each other like boulders on a levee.

We flew over the stadium where, for the price of a weeks groceries, you can watch millionaires spit seeds from the dugout. I paid a dollar to watch the Atlanta Crackers when a hot dog was twenty cents, a Coke a dime.

The owner is Steve Collins from Dunwoody, a retired airline pilot who, after five years, bored with television, bought BiplaneRidesAtlanta. He just acquired Bi-plane Adventures in Kennesaw. When you don’t want competitors you buy them out. Collins thrives on the flying business.

If you have not flown in an open cockpit airplane you must do it soon. You will feel like the Red Baron, with a scarf whipping wildly around your head. The pilot puts you at ease: “Daddy is going to take you flying.” 

And check out the well-done hamburger in the 47th Fighter Wing restaurant…incomparable.

You can reach Bill York by email: