Friday, May 19, 2017


…An afternoon with Sonoma’s Vintage Aircraft Company…

The ’42 Boeing Stearman was 10 years older than myself.  

Climbing in (with daughter Jessica) I could not help but remember that 100 years ago this year, my grandfather (Edgar W. “Hap” Bagnell) landed an even more primitive machine on the polo field behind the White House in an effort to impress Congress with the military capabilities of aircraft.

Our flight plan would not take us to DC – and we likely wouldn’t have lived to tell about it had pilot Chris Prevost attempted a landing behind the White House.

Located on Arnold Drive near Sonoma, CA at the Sonoma Valley Airport, the Vintage Aircraft Company offers scenic flights over the Napa Sonoma Wine County, down to view the San Francisco skyline and waterfront, or out to the Pacific Coast and Tomales Bay. 

Having ridden California’s Highway 1 on the Triumph just a week ago, I thought it would be interesting to see things from the air, so we opted for the flight to the coast

The powerful Stearman fueled and eager to slip the surly bonds of earth, Jessica pulled together her best impersonation of Amelia Earhart prior to wheels up.

Settling into the forward compartment, a glimpse at the instrument panel exposed how far we’ve come since Hap flew.  This ain’t no Southwest 737-800.

Lifting off, we were soon bearing west across US 101 near Petaluma toward Two Rock tracing, I think, Tomales Petaluma Road.  I hoped to tell my seatmate I just driven that lovely, pastoral route on the T-bird, but the roar of the big Pratt and Whitney pushed the words back down my throat.  All I could do was point.

I also found that when I placed my Panasonic camera just above the windscreen, I couldn’t get the shutter to operate, thus, no pictures from directly over the engine.  Then again, no bug splats on the lens…

Later, I determined that I should simply pocket the camera and enjoy the flight, which is what I’ll do next time.  From the still air of the forward cockpit, I did fire off a selfie of sorts…

The open-air cockpit left little doubt when we entered into the marine layer lapping over the coastline.  Glad I was that the purveyors of this trip offered – and I accepted – a fleece layer for the journey.

Short of Dillon Beach, at the mouth of Tomales Bay, we bore south atop the San Andrea Rift Zone.  Again I pointed and attempted:  “Pacific Plate over there.  North American Plate over there…”  

Jessica didn’t need to hear that.  Why must I always be the Answer Man?

The pass south over Tomales Bay, at – what did the gauge say, 110 knots? – went too quickly, but that was on me.  I missed some ground points I was looking for as I fumbled with my camera.  Marshall.  Inverness.  There were things I’d seen from State Route 1 that I wanted to see from the air…

Banking eastward, the ambient temperature rose and we paralleled the northern reach of San Pablo Bay lay to the south.  A fingernail of the San Francisco skyline melted into the haze.

Soon we found ourselves circling the airfield and preparing to land.

After touching down like a feather, Pilot Prevost taxied between the hangars and, for an added entertainment bonus, somehow used forward braking to back us into the big Stearman’s resting spot.  

Passers-by from Dubai who’d just ridden up on rented Harleys expressed awe.

I, however, had been awestruck by the whole thing. 

The adventure had been a gift from my altitude challenged wife, something I wish I could have shared with her, but sharing it with daughter Jessica made the whole event memorable times three.

Jessica, me...

...and Hap

Check out Vintage Aircraft Company at and give some thought to scheduling a flight with ‘em.

© 2017
Church of the Open Road Press


  1. Very cool. Not only that you could go on the flight with your daughter, but how it ties in the family history.

    Thank you for sharing.

    1. Through a tiny snafu related to e-mail, I discovered that this Stearman had been out on a flight earlier in the day. The passenger was a 92-year-old woman who used to fly these. Didn't find out why, but I wonder if pilot Chris would have turned the controls over to her during the tour. Woulda been a hoot, don't you think?