Reasons why you should take a Fun Flights biplane ride, a list:
- You are literally flying through the air like a bird.
- Your beard (hair) will blow in the wind & you’ll feel freedom.
- You get to wear cool goggles.
- SoCal from the sky is friggin’ amazing.
- People on Facebook will be super jealous (if you’re into that).
- The Fun Flights team is awesome.
- You are trying to get over a fear of heights.
- It will inspire you to be a better person (maybe).
- You might see whales, dolphins or the Goodyear Blimp.
- Avoiding potential earthquakes or the End of Days.
- It will get you laid…probably.
Reasons why you shouldn’t take a Fun Flights biplane ride, another list:
- There is a hurricane.
And that’s it. If you have the time & the means you should take a biplane ride at Fun Flights. I’m glad we got that out of the way.
Fun Flights is tucked away on the west end of Palomar-McClellan Airport in Carlsbad. Go in the main entrance and veer left. It is easy to find. There is a sign. The office houses a computer, some tees, caps and Janene. Janene is the one woman sales & administration department, and lightning bolt of person. She greets me during my recent visit wearing a false beard & a t-shirt proclaiming that “The only thing more BADASS than a Pilot is a Pilot’s Wife.” I totally agree. Janene is vibrant & warm with an infectious laugh. A few minutes with her and any nerves you may have had about flying will be long forgotten. The walls of the office are covered in historic photos & paintings of airplanes, airports and pilots. There is a small table where you sign a short waiver saying you know there is an inherent risk of flying in a plane. I chose not to read the waiver, but that isn’t the recommended policy. All in all it is a lovely holding room while the anticipation builds.
While waiting to go out the plane it is hard not to get distracted by the private jets taking off one after another. The power & speed they take off with and the luxury they imply is intoxicating but impersonal. Janene will take away the paperwork, and lead you out the back door and around the corner. At this point you still don’t know what is waiting for you. Savor this moment. It will be the last that you aren’t overwhelmed by the insane coolness that is Olive, the 1929 Travel Air 4000 biplane you’ll be flying in & her pilot Captain Biggles. It will be the last moment before you realize you’ve spent your whole life missing out. The last moment before you regret not getting your pilots license or trading favors for airplane rides at the local airport.
Olive is beautiful. She has long angular lines, sharp features in deep blue that contrasts sharply with pale yellow wings. There are two wings. One below and one above the open air cockpit. The cockpit has two seating areas. Room for two in the front and your Captain piloting from the back. Up front is the engine & propeller. Calling it an engine doesn’t carry enough gravitas. This is a deep throated, rumbly monster glorious in it’s weight. It is black and the propeller glints shiny silver in the sun. I don’t know shit about engines and looking at this one makes me want to take engine maintenance classes at night at the local community college. That is even before I learn that this particular type of engine was used for two purposes-Travel Air biplanes and M3 Sherman military tanks. Holy shit. If all I got to do was see Olive up close and stare at it I would have been worth the trip. In a few moments I was also going to go up in the sky in her.
Captain Biggles, Brian, is Co-owner and one of the two pilots who take passengers up in Olive. He is soft spoken, calm and quick-witted. He reminds me of a British Dustin Hoffman both in stature and demeanor. His enthusiasm for this airplane and flying is evident from the first moments of our conversation. During the week he trains corporate jet pilots, and on the weekend flies passengers in Olive. Flying is his passion and I have no doubt that if he wasn’t running a business he’d just be up flying around anyway. He gives us some of the lengthy history of his airplane.
The Travel Air Manufacturing Co. was based out of Kansas and started by three of the more famous names in aviation, Walter Beech, Lloyd Stearman and Clyde Cessna. Janene & Brian are the 25th owners of Olive. She started in St. Louis, MO, moved to Wisconsin, Illinois, California, Arizona and back to California. At various points the plane operated as a charter aircraft, delivering mail, crop dusting, barnstorming across the country, and training Navy pilots. Olive’s barnstorming adventures were written about in the book “Nothing By Chance” which was turned into a movie Olive starred in as well. That is just the tip of the iceberg as to the history of this plane.
Captain Biggles gives us the pre-flight rundown. How to get in. How to get out. Where the life preservers are. Where the lunch retrieval bags are. He assures us we won’t need them. He gives us an idea of what to expect from the taxi and takeoff, our path up and down the coastline from Carlsbad to Oceanside. Then down to Del Mar banking inland and back to the airport to land. He likens the comfort of the flight to riding in an old oversized Cadillac. It’s leisure flying at it’s best. Then we get in, and put our goggles and headphones on. Strap a single seatbelt over the two of us in the front seat. It feels very, very real.
It’s real flying, flying like it used to be. In helmet and goggles you’ll re-live the good ol’ days. -funflights.com
The engine rumbles and throbs. It feels very manly. It exhorts a throaty roar like the revving of muscle car on steroids. We taxi to the end of the runway. The nose of the plane is up in the air so from the front we are blind to what is in front of us. Captain gives the engine some throttle and we roar down the runway. Lift forces the tail up, the nose down and we take off into the blue sky. We bank upward to about 1300 feet and level off facing out at the blue grey haze of the ocean meeting the horizon.
We turn north. My beard flutters in a surprisingly warm breeze. And the view in any direction is incredible. The expansive ocean on one side. The Southern California landscape on the other. Dips and peaks, lagoons and rivers, baseball fields, subdivisions, people on the beach, the Coaster train are all miniatures in what looks like a Lego-sized play land down below. Captain Biggles is an excellent pilot. He keeps an eye out for whales while we gawk and take pictures. He tells stories over the intercom about being a pilot, pausing to point out changes in landscape or answer questions. He exudes a comforting calmness & when I hold up the phone to take an in-flight selfie he’s ready with a wave and a smile. At no point do I question his expertise as a pilot. It is one of the most relaxed flights I’ve ever been on.
Normally, these flights head all the way down to La Jolla but today is the last day of the Torrey Pines PGA tour stop, and air traffic is hectic over the golf course. We ogle the Goodyear Blimp up ahead and turn in-land over Del Mar instead. For a while we’re looking out at the mountains before heading north again and dropping in down towards the runway. The nose tips up again and the tail drops. There is a slight bump when we touch down like you might feel if you accidentally sat down on a chair too quickly. It’s over. Despite being a full grown man I feel a giddy, child-like happiness. Up in the air all the concerns of life on the ground had floated off into the atmosphere, and I came down lighter.
During the pre-flight, the take-off and post landing moments Janene was manning a camera taking photos they provide to the customers free of charge. It frees you to just enjoy the process of the trip instead of just being concerned with documenting it on social media. After the flight she e-mails the digital files. Fun flights offers 30 & 60 minute rides and a special sunset cruise. On a sunset cruise you end up seeing multiple sunsets as you climb higher into the sky. If you’re a private pilot flying alone they’ll even let you man the stick and fly the plane but you’ll want to talk to them ahead of time to get it set up. The friendliness and witty banter is free of charge. You can schedule your flight & buy tickets online or call 1-855-TWO-WING (1-855-896-9464) to do so or just ask questions.
And you should do this. It is an experience that will resonate. It gives something back to your soul in away that souvenir t-shirt or playing mini-golf or binge watching Netflix can’t. And it might get you laid.
Check out www.funflights.com for all kinds of history about Olive, the 1929 Travel Air 4000, see photos and schedule your flights. You won’t regret it.