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Biplane Expo’s Grand Finale

Photos and story by Earl Downs

Biplane Expo Photo Gallery
View the photo gallery

Charlie Harris and Jim Moss
Charlie Harris (left) has a good time visiting with his old friend, Jim Moss. Jim flew his one-of-a-kind modified 1931 Great Lakes biplane to the Expo from Buckley, Washington. It’s powered by a Russian M14-A engine.

Lots of biplanes
The weather was good and the grass was decorated with biplanes.

Boeing N2S-3
This Boeing N2S-3 is painted to represent a “recall plane.” Primary training planes in World War II commonly did not have radios. This plane would fly to the student practice area as a signal for students to return to home base.

1917 Fokker D7
When Charlie Harris was jokingly asked if any of the biplanes were older than he, he pointed to the 1917 Fokker D7 World War I fighter replica.

New Standard
Biplane rides were available in this “New Standard” biplane.

This one-of-a-kind Zenith-3 biplane combines the open cockpit with a closed cabin for the passengers. It flew in from St. Louis.

June 8, 2009 — Something about biplanes catches our fancy. Maybe it’s because they represent our aviation heritage and aviators of the past who flew them. Many of these planes exude the brute force of radial engines and the presence of large stature, while others are diminutive and perform maneuvers with the flick of a wrist. Whatever trips your trigger, the fascination with biplanes has been epitomized for the past 23 years at Bartlesville, Oklahoma, during the National Biplane Association’s (NBA) annual Biplane Expo.

However, the Biplane Expo held June 4-6 was different. Earlier this year, the NBA Board of Directors decided, for numerous reasons, that 2009 would be the last Biplane Expo in Bartlesville. When Charlie Harris, NBA chairman and president, announced the decision to end the Expos, he said, “This will be a grand finale, not a somber event.” They asked Dick Rutan to be the honored guest for the event and got ready for the final goodbye.

And a grand finale it was! When asked about the good fortune of having great weather, Charlie said, “I talked a little with the Almighty, and he said not to worry.” By Saturday morning Charlie estimated about 120 biplanes were on the field and more than 150 other planes had arrived to join in the festivities. (A temporary control tower was established to handle the air traffic.) Hundreds of people listened to Rutan’s program, and the Friday evening dinner was oversold.

Biplanes of all types attended - antiques, classics, homebuilts, and one-of-kind stacked-wing wonders that made the green, closely trimmed grass look like a multicolored field. Pilots flew their biplanes from the four corners of the country to attend the finale. Both fly-in and drive-in spectators had the chance to take a biplane ride. The event was packed with educational forums, but it was not unusual to see a biplane owner simply taking a traditional afternoon nap under the shade of his lower wing.

Over these past 23 years, some 2,500 bipes and 7,000 other aircraft have drawn approximately 75,000 fans to the Biplane Expo. The NBA was formed as a non-profit organization in 1987 to educate the general public on the history and development of biplane aircraft and to promote their preservation. Their mission continues and membership is open to anyone interested in biplanes and in preserving them.

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